BY SHANNON WILEY
“Right now it’s affecting everybody. All walks of life, races, ages, young, old,” an anonymous local officer said. “It’s becoming an epidemic.”
The officer, who asked to remain anonymous due to risks in his specific duties, said this while referring to the high prevalence of heroin he and his fellow officers have seen over the past year to year and a half.
While 90 percent of this officer’s work is done in Wicomico County, and therefore has seen the most heroin here, abuse of the drug has become a rampant issue across the state.
Maryland’s gubernatorial website shows that heroin-related overdose deaths increased by 95 percent from 2010 to 2013 and in the past five years, the number of deaths involving heroin and opioid drug dependency increased more than 100 percent.
In 2013, 464 people died in heroin-related overdoses, which is more than the number of homicides that same year, according to the site. Although numbers are not finalized yet, 2014’s statistics have started to show that these numbers are expected to exceed 2013’s by about 20 percent.
This upwards trend of opiate use has made its way onto Salisbury University’s campus, as well.
“There has been a spike not only (in the) city of Salisbury, but nationally in opioid abuse, and the campus community is not immune to that,” said SU Police Department Lt. and Investigative-Support Services Cmrd. Brian Waller, who has been with the force for 16 years.
Waller believes that heroin addiction, not just with students, but with anyone, begins with an addiction to pain medication.
“The injury heals, but they remain addicted to the medication,” he said. “Typically Oxycodone, Percocet, they sell for about a dollar per milligram on the street, so thirty bucks a pill. An individual can get a comparable amount of heroine for about ten dollars. So students, or anyone for that matter, then find themselves in a situation where they have an addiction to feed and it’s financially easier to feed that addiction with heroin that it is with prescription pills.”
The anonymous officer agreed, and believes that it is partially the fault of some of the medical community.
“I think doctors are too quick to prescribe pain medication, just as a way to get people out the door,” he said. “It becomes kind of a problem. People take it for the first time and it made them feel good and they keep continuing to take it, like we would Tylenol if you had a headache. And eventually they get hooked on that, and when that’s not available, they revert to the heroine. It’s a lot cheaper and easier to get.”
The anonymous officer said that when he deals with students from SU or University of Maryland Eastern Shore, while he sees heroine being used, it is not as prevalent.
“With the Salisbury University students, for a while there was a lot of marijuana,” he said. “High end, high grade marijuana. Then from there cocaine, shrooms, your party drugs. There is some heroine, I really don’t see it as being as much of a problem with students as the locals, per se, but more of the party drugs.”
A sophomore at SU, who chose to remain anonymous as to not incriminate himself, said that although he has smoked marijuana and done Sass, a drug similar to Methylene-Dioxy-Meth-Amphetamine (MDMA), he has seen a lot of people at SU who have bought and used cocaine.
Although drug issues are present at SU, from Waller’s experience, these addictions primarily develop in students’ home towns and then those students bring their addiction to campus, needing to feed it. Likewise, although there are drug dealers in the campus community, they still get resupplied at home.
The anonymous officer noted the same trend regarding how heroin is being brought into Salisbury.
“I would say Baltimore, Philadelphia, Wilmington, and it’s being transported on the roadways,” he said. “Route 13, Route 50; Salisbury is kind of like very close to the major cities. It’s just a couple hours’ drive time.”
Since some students at SU are bringing their own drugs from home into the campus community, as officialls stated, Waller noted that the drug market at SU and the market within Salisbury locals does not typically intersect.
“They are almost, kind of, two worlds apart,” he said.
In February, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan began Maryland’s Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force in order to combat the issue, after promising to declare Maryland in a state of emergency last year, according to the Baltimore Sun.
The task force is made up of 11 members with backgrounds in substance abuse, treatment and law enforcement, Maryland.org tells. One of the members is also a mother who lost her daughter to a heroin overdose.
In the force’s interim report submitted to Hogan in August, they explained that after holding six regional summits in order to gain more insight on the issue, they found a number of recurring issues with Maryland’s current handling of it.
The first issue that they noticed through testimony is there is a lack of adequate resources when Marylanders are trying to receive healthcare with heroin or opioid dependency. This includes a lack of “qualified treatment professionals” and “insufficient capacity at both inpatient and outpatient treatment facilities.”
Another finding came from a number of people who expressed distress over the quality of care those attempting to receive treatment actually receive.
“Established standards of care for addiction medicine and practices are not applied at all treatment facilities, resulting in inconsistent quality of care across providers in the State,” the report states.
“Currently, notions of quality of care are often based on diagnoses, availability of services and provider comfort rather than an evidence-based, outcome-driven approach.”
Those testifying also said “person-centered” care was often missing, that there were concerns over “questionable prescribing practices” and monitoring of prescribed medications or giving satisfactory medication-only care, the interim report said.
The report also told that the large number of heroin and opioid crimes are “swamping law enforcement and depleting their resources,” leaving law agencies under-equipped to fully deal with the issues at hand.
Testifiers also noted the inconsistent eligibility requirements to go to drug court, which is one opportunity for users to find substance use disorder services.
The last issue the task force noted in their findings is the need to educate children in Maryland at a younger age about the dangers of heroin and opioids, especially prescription medications, as there have been a growing trend of youth stealing medications from family members and distributing said medications at parties, such as pill parties, without having knowledge of the medications’ actual intended purpose or effects, according to the report.
Through the Interim Report, the task force gave Hogan a list of ten recommendations that the government has designated just over $2 million in implementing, according to an article by WBAL.
These recommendations included additional and broader education on the subject, campaigns through students, video public service announcements and an awareness week, more resources for Maryland State Police and the Governor’s Office of Community Initiatives’ Coordinator to help their agencies deal with the issue as well as for them to help others with addiction.