Cecil County Has Record Drug OD Deaths But Health Officials Say Don’t Know Numbers; Sheriff Has Stats on Getting Inmates off Drugs
Cecil County health officials told the County Council on Tuesday they donâ€™t know how many drug overdose deaths there were in the county last year and donâ€™t know how many heroin addicts there are locallyâ€”but state statistics show the county is second only to Baltimore City in drug deaths. In contrast, county Sheriff Scott Adams had detailed data on how his new programs are working to combat drug addiction among jail inmates.
Another issue raised during the County Councilâ€™s worksession was whether to create a â€śneedle exchangeâ€ť program in the county, with health officials supporting the idea while the Sheriff voiced concerns about â€śenablingâ€ť drug addicts to get free drug needles while state laws prohibit drug â€śparaphernalia.â€ť
Under extended questioning by County Councilor Alan McCarthy (R-1), the countyâ€™s health officer, Stephanie Garrity, said she didnâ€™t know how many heroin addicts there are in Cecil County and did not know how many drug overdose deaths there were in the county last year.
â€śI donâ€™t have that,â€ť Garrity said about heroin addiction numbers. And county health department officials also could not answer McCarthyâ€™s questions about the numbers of fatal drug overdoses in the county in the past year and how they compared with the previous record set several years ago.
In fact, Cecil County set a new record in the number of drug overdose deaths recorded in 2014, according to state health data reviewed by Cecil Times. In addition, Cecil County also registered the second-highest death rate, based on population, in the entire state from 2010 through 2014. Only Baltimore City showed a higher death rate during the period, according to a new state report issued in mid-October.
State data show that Cecil County had 29 drug overdose deaths in 2014â€”the highest level since the countyâ€™s previous high of 28 in 2011. In that year, Cecilâ€™s per capita death rate was even higher than that of Baltimore City. But even as drug deaths rose in Baltimoreâ€”to 305 in 2014â€”the much more populated city was still just slightly ahead of Cecil County on a population-adjusted basis over the past five years.
The state data show that from 2010 through 2014, Baltimore City had a drug death rate of 29.8 persons per 100,000 population, while Cecil County had the second-highest rate in Marylandâ€”26.3 per 100,000 population.
While Garrity told the County Council she did not know the drug overdose death numbers for Cecil County, Ken Collins– the health agencyâ€™s director of drug addiction services who was named to the title of county â€śdrug czarâ€ť by County Executive Tari Moore–was quick to cite statistics of â€ś45 lives savedâ€ť in the past 18 months because of expanded administration of Narcanâ€”a nasal mist medication administered to counteract the effects of a potential drug overdose.
The county was in the statewide forefront of training for administration of Narcan, with Collins telling reporters Tuesday that in the past 18 months, 151 â€ściviliansâ€ť were trained in how to administer the medication and 256 local law enforcement officers were trained. Actual administrations of Narcan to potential drug overdose patients in the past 18 months were 24 cases by police and 21 administrations by civilians.
While Collins claimed that the Narcan administrations were equal to â€ś45 lives saved,â€ť there was no medical confirmation cited that giving the nasal mist to someone suspected of having a drug overdose amounted to a definitive fatality avoided.
McCarthy questioned why the county health officials were so quick to provide those favorable Narcan statistics but couldnâ€™t answer basic questions about the statistics on drug overdose death numbers or how many heroin addicts there are in the county.
â€śI think itâ€™s greatâ€ť that county health officials claim saving 45 lives via Narcan, McCarthy said. But â€śI canâ€™t hardly believe you know those numbers but not the number of deathsâ€ť from drug overdoses, McCarthy added. As the discussion ended, Garrity promised to give McCarthy privately the â€śdataâ€ť he requested but she could not provide in the audio-recorded public worksession. [Under questioning by McCarthy, Garrity acknowledged that the local health department, which is a state agency, gets about 25 percent of its $13.8 million budget funds from county taxpayers, which she said amounted to about $3.2 million. Actually, the proportion is more like $3.4 million from county taxpayers in the current budget.]
After the Council worksession, McCarthy told Cecil Times he was â€śdisappointedâ€ť and â€śconcernedâ€ť that the local health officials did not come forward with important data and information in the public meeting with the County Council.
Meanwhile, Cecil County Sheriff Scott Adams, who also testified before the County Councilâ€™s worksession, provided detailed information and data on initiatives he has launched to address the problems of drug addicts coming out of the county detention center. Since his election as Sheriff in 2014, Adams has taken a multi-pronged approach to combatting the drug problemâ€”with schools-based education and prevention efforts, K9 dog drug detection, and joint multi-jurisdictional efforts with state and federal anti-drug units.
But the Sheriff is also charged with running the Cecil County Detention Center, and Adams has been in the forefront of seeking new ways to address the problems of drug-addicted inmates going back into the local community without proper treatment.
Adams was an early proponent of a new medication, Vivitrol, which can block the effects of illegal drug â€śhighsâ€ť for 30 days, so as to give addicts time to get into drug treatment programs. His strong advocacy yielded a state grant to Cecil County to pay for the program, the second of its kind in the state for inmates being released from a local jail. â€śI championed this program,â€ť Adams told the Council.
Adams told the County Council that his agency has had positive results in just the past few months since the program was launched. He said that there are 28 inmates signed up to participate in the program shortly before they will be released; 7 inmates have received their first shot and 2 received their second shot under the program. Adams emphasized that the results were â€śgreatâ€ť because it is so new. He commended the county health department for co-operating with the jail by picking up released inmates and taking them directly to counselors to help link them with counseling and treatment programs in the community.
Adams indicated conflicted views on Garrityâ€™s proposal to initiate a needle exchange program in the county, under which injected drug users could get free â€ścleanâ€ť needles to continue their drug usage. Garrity said such a program would help prevent spread of HIV and Hepatitis C infections, and could be set up so as to get heroin users into a medically supervised program to test and treat for such infectious diseases.
Adams said he understood the public health aspects of such a program, but worried that it could impede law enforcement efforts to arrest serious drug offenders if their â€śparaphernaliaâ€ť could be considered legal items under a needle exchange law. He also said he worried about â€śenablingâ€ť drug addicts to continue their illegal conduct, instead of getting into serious treatment programs to end their addiction.
Adams and health officials appeared before the County Council to discuss recent recommendations by a state task force headed by Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, who came to Cecil County to hold the first of several public hearings on the drug issue around the state. The task force report makes numerous recommendations that will require legislative action or regulatory changes by the state government.