Summit to increase awareness about drugs

Forum, new video will carry message that `heroin kills'

May 23, 1999|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

Although heroin overdoses in Carroll County have declined this year, organizers of Thursday's Drug Summit '99 say the message will be that prevention, enforcement, prosecution and public awareness must continue relentlessly.

The fourth public forum will carry added punch, serving as the public premiere of "Heroin Kills," a 34-minute video written, directed and produced by Residents Attacking Drugs, a Westminster-based grass-roots group of parents and students that took up the anti-drug fight last year after Liam O'Hara, a 15-year-old high school sophomore, died of a heroin overdose.

Drug Summit '99, sponsored by Carroll County and the county's Substance Abuse Prevention Advisory Committee, will feature presentations from David Puetsche of the Maryland Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration and Sgt. Mike College of the Carroll County Drug Task Force, said Olivia Myers, executive director of Junction Inc., a substance-abuse treatment and prevention facility in Westminster.

Puetsche is expected to give an overview of the drug-abuse problem statewide, she said.

College, a parent and county resident, said he will concentrate on how substance abuse affects the family and community. Drug addiction is the root cause of much juvenile and young adult crime, he said.

Some people are in denial and don't want to accept that a shed break-in in their yard or a burglary next door is often linked to drugs, he said.

That drugs are the cause of much crime was driven home two weeks ago by Barry R. McCaffrey, the White House drug policy director, who noted the strong correlation between drugs and violence after a national youth violence conference in Washington.

According to a National Institute of Justice report in 1997, McCaffrey said, 60 percent of those arrested for serious crimes tested positive for drugs in 20 of 23 cities surveyed.

Overdoses down at hospital

In Carroll County, the number of heroin overdose cases in the emergency room at Carroll County General Hospital has dipped from an average of 13 a month last year to seven a month since February.

Myers noted that the percentage of heroin cases handled by Junction counselors has remained constant at 11 percent of the caseload. The agency has 117 active cases.

The heroin percentage matches that for cocaine but is low in comparison with active marijuana cases, which account for 60 percent of Junction's treatment load, Myers said.

"The heroin cases are the toughest because heroin is so addictive and so destructive," Myers said. "Unlike alcohol or marijuana, heroin abusers become addicted so quickly that the destructive forces can rapidly affect the addict's family and job."

College said he is not sure why overdose cases at the emergency room at Carroll County General Hospital have dropped recently.

"The numbers of drug-involved cases seen at Junction and by Juvenile Services have not declined," he said.

State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes said he hopes the decline in heroin overdoses is a sign that prevention and education efforts are working.

"But we must continue to use any innovative techniques we can think of and relentlessly maintain our efforts to stop heroin and all substance abuse in the county," he said.

To bolster the anti-drug campaign, Barnes said, the county commissioners have agreed to pay for a prosecutor to concentrate on drug cases if his office does not receive a state anti-drug grant it is seeking.

Barnes named longtime prosecutor Theresa M. Adams to fill that role. She will be supported by George Butler, a retired state trooper who has more than 20 years' experience in drug investigation.

Butler visits Carroll's eighth-grade classrooms with an anti-drug presentation and serves as the state's attorney's chief liaison for the Reality program, which gives first-time drug and alcohol offenders an alternative to criminal charges.

The voluntary weekend course strives to teach offenders the cost of their substance abuse to family, friends and community.

`Prevalent and continuous'

Barnes said PNE Media will provide space for 10 billboards in the county this summer to display the toe-tag "Heroin Kills" message.

"The visual message has to be prevalent and continuous in deterring young people from experimenting with drugs," Barnes said.

Westminster radio station WTTR will air three 15-second public service spots carrying anti-substance abuse messages, he said.

Drug Summit '99 begins at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Westminster Senior Center, 125 Stoner Ave.

Pub Date: 5/23/99

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