ROCKVILLE – Montgomery County Assistant Police Chief Russ Hamill said he first became aware of the severity of the nationwide opioid crisis at a drug summit put on by the Police Executive Research Forum.
At the summit, Hamill met a police chief from a city in the Northeast, who said two of her officers stood by helpless as teenaged, high school cheerleader with a 4.0 grade point average overdosed on opioids. The police chief then told Hamill that the women who died from the overdose was her daughter.
“It drove the fact home, it drove the point home for many of us,” Hamill said. “Now, it don’t matter who’s daughter it is, who don’t matter who’s friends it is, it’s a humanbeing and all human life has extreme value.”
On Monday, the Montgomery County Council Public Safety Committee tried to find answers to one of the nation’s crises that have hit the County – the abuse of opioids. The crisis is so severe it led Gov. Larry Hogan to declare a “state of emergency” in March pledging $50 million over the next five years in support of enforcement and prevention services.
In the past year the County there has been a 44 percent increase in overdoses so far in 2017. The drastic increase in overdoses in the County is part of a growing trend with the number of overdoses doubling from 2015 to 2016.
“As bad as that seems that’s better. At one point this year we were over 90 percent for that, and we’ve seen a dramatic drop,” said Paul Liquorie, director of the Special Investigations Division at Montgomery County Police. “I can’t necessary account for why we’ve see that.”
Over the last two years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of opioid related overdoses with 107 opioid related overdoes in 2015 to 214 in 2016. So far in 2017 there have been 122 opioid related overdoes 31 of which have been fatal.
Naloxone, commonly referred to by its brand name Narcan, is a drug that blocks the effects of opioids during an overdose. While previously, people in Maryland needed a prescription from a doctor to get the drug, in June the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene changed the rule to allow anyone to get Narcan without a doctor’s prescription. Previously only people trained to use Narcan could obtain the drug without a doctor’s prescription.
While most Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service personnel carry Narcan in their vehicles, a small minority of police officers in the County carries the life-saving antidote. Currently 90 Montgomery County Police officers are trained in use of the drug and carry Narcan in their vehicles, but Hamill said 100 more officers, thanks to a federal grant, are being trained to carry the medicine. Hamill said there was a “large jump” in non-fatal overdoes from 2015 to 2016, due to the fact that more first responders have access to Narcan.
“Those are in large part, in large measure are due to the supply of Narcan,” said Hamill of the increased percentage of non-fatal opioid overdoes. “Our ability and mostly the ability of fire board to be able supply Narcan to people who are overdosing.”