New billboard in Bel Air aims at heroin use

September 09, 1998|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

In the latest effort to draw attention to the dangers of heroin in Harford County, officials will unveil a billboard today on a highly visible section of U.S. 1 in Bel Air, hoping to catch the attention of parents.

"I don't think people in Harford County realize how vulnerable their children are to heroin," said Maj. Neil Franklin, co-chairman of the Harford County Heroin Task Force, which helped push for the billboard. "So many people, when they think of heroin, think of someone with a needle in their arm in an abandoned house in the city, and that's not always the case."

Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann are to attend the 11 a.m. ceremony at U.S. 1 and Harford Road near the Maryland State Police's Bel Air barracks.

From 1994 to 1997, Harford saw a 121 percent increase in heroin-related admissions for treatment. Seven heroin-related deaths occurred in the county in 1996 and six in 1997.

Franklin said the sign, donated by Upper Chesapeake Health Systems, is aimed at parents rather than children, who are learning about the dangers of the drug through school and other programs.

Barbara Mason said she wished she had been better educated about the signs of heroin use. Mason, a staff coordinator for Fallston General Hospital, lost her 18-year-son Elliott to a heroin overdose in February and was instrumental in having the billboard erected.

"Maybe I could have saved him, and he would still be here," Mason said. "My main drive is to make people aware that it could be next door to them or it could be in their house."

Assistant State's Attorney Mimi Cooper, a member of the task force, said the group also has planned back-to-school nights with video presentations for parents.

"I think that combined with our other efforts, the billboard is going to be very successful," Cooper said.

Pub Date: 9/09/98

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