Cecil County Sheriff Sees “Scary” Trend of Heroin Laced with other Drugs; Progress Against Drug Epidemic Hard to Track
Wearing a mourning band around his Sheriffâ€™s badge to honor the sadly growing roster of recently murdered law enforcement officers across the nation, Cecil County Sheriff Scott Adams warned the Cecil County Council on Tuesday that despite gains in preventing fatal overdoses and heightened enforcement efforts against drug traffickers, there are â€śscaryâ€ť trends in the illegal drug world that could worsen the drug abuse problem in the county.
Compounding the problem has been a time-lag in â€śtrendâ€ť and â€śthreat assessmentâ€ť information from federal agencies, such as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), that makes data available long after police on the streets are seeing quickly shifting patterns in illegal drugs sold by dealers. â€śThe trends change so quickly,â€ť Adams said, and a growing threat is fentanylâ€”a powerful opioid and anesthetic that dealers are mixing with heroin–that had previously bypassed Cecil County.
But in 2015, there were 7 fentanyl drug deaths in Cecil Countyâ€”a sharp increase from the 1 death recorded in 2014 and zero deaths in the county due to fentanyl in 2013. So far this year, there has already been 1 fentanyl-related death in Cecil County during the first four months of the year, according to new state health data reviewed by Cecil Times. (Overall drug overdose deaths in Cecil County numbered 32 in 2015â€”a new record. And so far in the first quarter of this year, a total of 9 deaths were recorded, potentially putting the county on track for yet another record number of fatal overdoses this year. )
Statewide fentanyl-related fatalities rose by 83 percent, to 340, in 2015, in comparison with the previous year, according to the state health data. In the first quarter of 2016, statewide fentanyl-related deaths totaled 150, according to a new report issued 6/29/16 by the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH). That figure was twice the number of fentanyl-related deaths in the first quarter of 2015, indicating that this year is on track for yet another record high number of fatal overdoses linked to the drug in Maryland.
Adams warned that fentanyl was likely to become an increasing threat in Cecil County, since it has been reported as an issue by law enforcement agencies in Philadelphia and New Jerseyâ€”the two geographic areas from which most of the illegal heroin and heroin-related drugs flow into Cecil County.
Fentanyl is being imported from China via sales on the â€śdark webâ€ť (or secret Internet sites), Adams said, and it is â€śvery cheapâ€ť so dealers mix it with, or substitute if for, heroin to boost their profit margin, spending just $5,000 on fentanyl and turning it around into $1.3 million in profits. And there are â€śreally scaryâ€ť reports that a tablet-form of fentanyl has been developed that could end up on the streets and would be highly lethal, Adams added.
The county Sheriff has launched a multi-front effort against illegal drug abuse and fatalitiesâ€”including education programs in county schools, a pioneering drug-blocking medication administered to inmates upon release from the county Detention Center, and equipping and training all deputies with doses of Narcan, a medication that can save lives by reversing the effects of a potentially lethal drug overdose.
But despite those efforts, the drug problem â€śis still badâ€ť in Cecil County and Narcan is â€śa great Band-Aid but itâ€™s not fixingâ€ť the problem. Prevention efforts with youth and treatment programs for addicts are crucial, he said.
County Council members have been frustrated with the county Health Departmentâ€”which is officially a state agency but receives about 25 percent of its budget from Cecil County taxpayersâ€”for what councilors have complained were slow data reports and presentations before the council with few answers to lawmakersâ€™ questions. In particular, councilors have been frustrated when the local health department professed not to know the numbers on drug overdose fatalities, even though numbers were documented available on state websites.
Adams said he is expecting to receive a state grant of about $50,000 to create a position in his department for a â€śheroin coordinator,â€ť who will be in charge of culling a variety of statistics and including them on state and federal law enforcement databases, so as to help track drug dealers, drug overdoses and drug arrests. One useful task will be extracting text messages and phone contacts from drug suspects cell phones, so that police can track potential sources and locations of drug dealers and drug hot spots. That way police can follow the drug trail up through the ranks to find higher-ranking drug operations.
Adams said the grant, from the Governorâ€™s Office of Crime Control, will be one of many provided to local police agencies around the state. But Cecil Countyâ€™s designation as part of a â€śHigh Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) means that the position will be feeding information to, and receiving data from, state, regional and federal anti-drug authorities in nearly real-time. In that way, Cecil County deputies and their partners in the HIDTA program will be able to share important information quickly on trends in the illegal drug world.
The Sheriff said there is no one answer to the drug problem, adding that a combination of prevention education, medical treatment and rehabilitation of addicts and law enforcement against dealers seems to be the best available roadmap so far.