Cecil County Drug Problems: Health Officials Cite Treatment Progress; Broomell Challenges Drug Panel but Cop in the Room Restrains Outbursts
Under the watchful eyes of a Cecil County Sheriffâs Deputy summoned to keep order at a County Council worksession on Tuesday, Councilor Diana Broomell (R-4) challenged, in largely polite terms, the efficacy of the countyâs drug addiction treatment advisory panel while county health officials documented successes of âcrisisâ mental health and drug overdose intervention programs.
For months, Broomell has aggressively challenged the operations of the countyâs advisory Drug and Alcohol Abuse Council and attacked the panelâs volunteer chairman, John Bennett. Foremost among her objections have been her contention that treatment of drug addicts with methadone and similar prescribed medications does not âcureâ addicts and she has claimed irregularities in the âbylawsâ of the Council. She has also asserted that the drug council was packed with health officials serving in multiple roles as both county/state employees and advisory panel members, which she views as a conflict of interest.
At several past County Council worksessions, Broomell has been vociferous in her attacks on Bennett and the countyâs health officer, Stephanie Garrity, to the point where County Council President Robert Hodge (R-5) has gaveled her as out of order. So Hodge summoned a deputy to provide security for the Tuesday worksessionâ just in case the County Councilâs rules of decorum might require an escort of a misbehaving Councilor out of the meeting. He only had to gavel Broomell as being âout of orderâ once during the meeting and her demeanor did not rise to the level of consideration by the full County Council of a censure and an official escort out of the session.
Garrity outlined several initiatives undertaken under the administration of County Executive Tari Mooreâwho attended Tuesdayâs Council meetingâincluding a $100,000 contract in the current budget year with a mobile mental health intervention team, Sante Group, that has been operating out of free office space at Union Hospital in Elkton.
Carol Masden, Santeâs director of mobile crisis services on the Eastern Shore, reported that the group has far exceeded the terms of its contract in dealing with âcrisisâ mental health incidents and drug abusers on an emergency basis. Part of Santeâs mission is to intervene to prevent admissions to general hospital emergency rooms in a crisis and to ensure that patients receive appropriate follow-up mental health and addiction treatment.
âWeâre really going like gangbusters,â Masden told the County Council. The group has been involved in the county since last October and she cited statistics showing responses to calls for help that were double the level required by the contract. Sante does not administer medications or treat drug overdose patients, she said, and in critical cases will call 911 and emergency responders.
But the Sante groupâs trained counselors âcalmâ a crisis situation and also follow up with chronic mental illness patients and drug abusers to connect patients with appropriate treatment services, Masden said.
Meanwhile, Garrity addressed Broomellâs complaints about the drug and alcohol council, by citing state law and past County Commissionersâ actions and policies to transition a previous âtask forceâ into a state required âcouncilâ to advise local officials on drug and alcohol abuse programs. Garrity questioned Broomellâs contentions that the panel was improperly constituted and said that state policies specified that various health experts should be included on the panel, so health department officialsâ involvement was appropriate.
Garrity also presented an updated 2/1/14 strategy plan adopted by the drug abuse council that added a priority to âreduce the incidence of fatal and non-fatal [drug] overdoses in Cecil County.â The county had the highest one-year drug overdose death rate in the state several years ago and more recently has been second only to Baltimore City in drug deaths.
âIâve been very concernedâ about the drug problem, Broomell said. Garrity responded, âYouâve been very passionate in your concerns.â But, Garrity added, the drug council had tried to operate in a âcollegialâ and âcollaborativeâ fashion without confrontation.
Taking a different approach, Broomell declared that âtwo and a half years have been wastedâ because the drug council was not aggressively seeking solutions. âHow can you say it has been effective,â Broomell said. She claimed that the drug council was now simply rubber-stamping the county executiveâs initiatives.
As she routinely does at Council meetings, Broomell again tried to challenge the value of methadone treatment for withdrawal from heroin addiction, but Council President Hodge cut her off, saying the meeting was not the forum for a debate on the relative merits of various medical treatment options.
Garrity said that âmedicationâ used in conjunction with counseling was a valid treatment option supported by âscienceâ and âthe science must drive policy.â
âWe need every weapon in our arsenalâ to treat drug addiction, Garrity said.
Then Broomell tried to bait Garrity, saying that âsome peopleâ think that Broomell should not serve as a member of the advisory drug council and asking if Garrity agreed that âI shouldnât be on the council.â When Garrity didnât respond, Broomell then inquired if the health officer had an objection to âme in particularâ being on the panel.
âIâd prefer not to answer,â Garrity responded.