Lt. Gov. Rutherford Listens to Cecil County, Shore Officials, Parents on Heroin Crisis; Task Force to Recommend Action Plan

March 18, 2015

The heroin and drug abuse crisis plaguing Cecil County and Maryland will require money, commitment by state and local governments and involvement of medical experts and families affected by drug abuse, local officials and area residents told a new state task force in Elkton on Tuesday.

Cecil County Executive Tari Moore claimed credit for reducing drug overdose deaths in the county in 2014, but in fact state statistics on the total number of drug-related deaths are not yet available and for much of last year Cecil County was on track for a record number of drug overdose deaths.

Cecil County had the dubious distinction on 3/17/15 of being the first stop on a planned tour around the state by the Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force convened by new Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and chaired by Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford. (In 2011, Cecil County had the highest drug overdose death rate, on a per capita population-adjusted basis, in the state—even higher than the city of Baltimore.)

“This is a problem that does not have an easy, or overnight, solution,” Rutherford said in Elkton. He said the task force would look for a “holistic approach to fight this public health emergency.” He said the panel planned to develop recommendations for action and a final report sent to the governor by the end of this year.

During the visit to Elkton, Rutherford was accompanied by seven members of the special task force named by Hogan, including a physician, an assistant Attorney General, a psychologist, the St. Mary’s County Sheriff, a family advocate, a state legislative aide, and a representative of addiction treatment clinics. Witnesses before the panel came from Cecil, Harford, Kent and Queen Anne’s counties.

The most moving testimony during the day-long event came from a Harford County pastor, Thomas Lantieri, whose son, Brandon, died of a heroin overdose at the age of 29. Lantieri, who pastors at Harford Community Church in Bel Air, is himself more than 20 years “sober” and has worked for many years in providing faith-based counseling and rehab assistance to addicts. He partnered with Harford County government to obtain a $1 million grant to create a program, “Face-It,” that has been assisting addicts for nearly a decade.

But even with his experience and dedication to the issue, he couldn’t save his son. “I buried him this past September, from an overdose of heroin,” Lantieri said somberly. He urged care providers, government officials and families to work together positively to find medical and spiritual solutions: “I’m here in desperate hope we can lay aside turf battles…people are dying and we’re still trying to figure out how to communicate.”

As he concluded his remarks, Lantieri choked back tears and his voice cracked, as members of the task force listened attentively to his emotional appeal.

That testimony was hard to follow, but former Cecil County Councilor Diana Broomell tried, with a repetition of her oft-told recriminations against the Cecil County Drug and Alcohol Abuse Council (DAAC). “I feel that was stolen from us,” she said, saying a policy-making role to review local plans and programs was denied members, including herself, as the panel’s leaders insisted for several years that the council was purely “advisory” with no review authority.

Broomell researched state law and bylaw requirements and found the DAAC had not complied with state rules. The panel formally adopted new bylaws last year after her previous objections. Broomell has often railed against methadone maintenance programs to get addicts off heroin and claimed that profit motivated such programs and their supporters, and that the DAAC and county government favored methadone clinics.

She took that tone again on Tuesday, saying that drug rehab programs should be “driven by success” rather than “greed.” Then she offered a personal complaint, saying her removal from the DAAC as the County Council’s representative was improper. “What I went through,” she said. “It was a clear obstruction…they voted to remove me because they said I was being divisive.”

Cecil County Executive Tari Moore opened the task force discussion, saying the county had “a wake-up call” when it learned it had one of the highest drug overdose death rates in the state. She outlined a series of initiatives taken since she took office as county executive over two years ago and declared that those steps were working because drug overdose death rates had declined in the last two quarters of 2014. Moore claimed that there were only two Cecil County drug overdose deaths in the third and fourth quarters of last year.

But county Health Officer Stephanie Garrity interjected that there were no official statistics for the fourth quarter of the year. After the meeting, Garrity confirmed to Cecil Times that her office still has not received final official data from the state on fourth quarter drug overdose deaths. State health officials in Annapolis previously told Cecil Times that there are no final 2014 drug overdose death figures and they won’t be available until later “in the spring.”

In fact, Cecil County was on track for a record high number of drug overdose deaths for much of 2014, with 10 deaths in each of the first and second quarters of the year, plus two deaths in the third quarter—for a total of 22 drug-related deaths for the first nine months of 2014. The worst figures for a full 12-month period in the county were 28 in 2011, the same year that Cecil County had the worst per-capita death rate in the state.

[SEE previous CECIL TIMES reports here:

and here:

Moore also urged the task force to recognize and listen to local governments and communities as the panel develops its recommendations. “We are your eyes and ears” on the drug problem, she said.

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2 Responses to Lt. Gov. Rutherford Listens to Cecil County, Shore Officials, Parents on Heroin Crisis; Task Force to Recommend Action Plan

  1. Bob Laird on March 18, 2015 at 4:00 pm

    What a shame that Mrs. Broomell was unable to recognize that this meeting was not the time for grandstanding on personal beefs. Especially to follow the Harford County pastor’s testimony which expressly asked for communication barriers to be broken down. Even if she came to the meeting with the intent to rail against the system, her inability to recognize a fantastic opportunity to waive her own testimony in favor of the greater good is just sad.

  2. Vince Pfeiffer on April 11, 2015 at 5:43 pm

    My condolences to Pastor Lantieri and his family. As a grandparent raising 2 grandchildren of parents working through their own substance abuse issues, and of other grandchildren of drug addicted parents, born addicted, and the father of a son who like the Pastor, celebrates his son’s spirit without a body, I can attest to the enormity and complexity of issues surrounding addicts who seem to perpetually fall off the wagon.

    The vast amounts of resources expended by all the agencies, state, county, and local, are astronomical. Few really understand the scope of issues surrounding addictive behaviors and the role intervention really plays.

    After denial, comes the really tough work of rehabilitation and family reunification. This is a life long commitment with many pitfalls, psychological spirals, and family cooperation. Community involvement is critical to any successful outcome.

    Whether this taskforce can identify needs and capture support for assistive development is more a dream than reality. Without mandatory rehab and sentencing to force participation and compliance, the success rate, now at 16%, at best, closer to 11%, in reality, little can be expected to change in the future. The recidivism rate is very high with little chance of improving. A poor economy, low outcome based expectations, no enforceable performance requirements, and few transitional options, will continue to promote the status quo for the families caught in this literal web of addiction, laws, agencies, courts, and miscellaneous traps; the outcome is usually pretty bleak.

    It takes monumental will and effort to overcome all the pitfalls. The key lies in family support and coordination of services, while balancing how much the family can provide without getting caught in the emotional rollercoaster.

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