Cecil County Has Record Drug OD Deaths But Health Officials Say Don’t Know Numbers; Sheriff Has Stats on Getting Inmates off Drugs

December 15, 2015

Cecil County health officials told the County Council on Tuesday they don’t know how many drug overdose deaths there were in the county last year and don’t know how many heroin addicts there are locally—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 Council’s worksession was whether to create a “needle exchange” program in the county, with health officials supporting the idea while the Sheriff voiced concerns about “enabling” drug addicts to get free drug needles while state laws prohibit drug “paraphernalia.”

Under extended questioning by County Councilor Alan McCarthy (R-1), the county’s health officer, Stephanie Garrity, said she didn’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.

“I don’t have that,” Garrity said about heroin addiction numbers. And county health department officials also could not answer McCarthy’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 2014—the highest level since the county’s previous high of 28 in 2011. In that year, Cecil’s per capita death rate was even higher than that of Baltimore City. But even as drug deaths rose in Baltimore—to 305 in 2014—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 Maryland—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 agency’s director of drug addiction services who was named to the title of county “drug czar” by County Executive Tari Moore–was quick to cite statistics of “45 lives saved” in the past 18 months because of expanded administration of Narcan—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 “civilians” 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 “45 lives saved,” 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 couldn’t answer basic questions about the statistics on drug overdose death numbers or how many heroin addicts there are in the county.

“I think it’s great” that county health officials claim saving 45 lives via Narcan, McCarthy said. But “I can’t hardly believe you know those numbers but not the number of deaths” from drug overdoses, McCarthy added. As the discussion ended, Garrity promised to give McCarthy privately the “data” 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 “disappointed” and “concerned” 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 Council’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 problem—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 “highs” 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. “I championed this program,” 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 “great” 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 Garrity’s proposal to initiate a needle exchange program in the county, under which injected drug users could get free “clean” 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 “paraphernalia” could be considered legal items under a needle exchange law. He also said he worried about “enabling” 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.

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3 Responses to Cecil County Has Record Drug OD Deaths But Health Officials Say Don’t Know Numbers; Sheriff Has Stats on Getting Inmates off Drugs

  1. Concerned Citizen on December 17, 2015 at 12:31 pm

    Taxpayers always have to pay the cost of supporting government programs that show very little results. What percentage of those entering these drug rehab programs actually stay off drugs? What is the cost per drug addict? What kind of return are we the taxpayer getting on our investment?

  2. Another concerned citizen on December 30, 2015 at 8:09 am

    How is it that the county health officials don’t know the statistics of deaths related to drug overdoses. I consider this to be negligence in an office that is supposed to be focused on the health of our community. They should be ashamed!!

  3. mike on January 22, 2016 at 6:28 am

    Make a deal with addict: let them have their drugs, at non-blackmarket prices, if in return they don’t cause any problem. Then they wouldn’t commit so many crimes to get the money to pay black market prices. If addicts refuse this fair deal, then you can throw the book at them. This wouldn’t just fight local crime, it would take a big bite out of the international gangs’ money and power.

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