The Rotary Clubs in Central Maryland and Washington, D.C., last week kicked off an educational program designed to help prevent future drug overdoses and deaths.
The 61 rotary clubs, representing more than 2,000 members, are making the opioid crisis a high priority in the coming year by using their members’ connections in the community to fight drug abuse, they announced July 26 during a news conference at Snowdens Funeral Home in Rockville.
The rotary clubs will focus on middle and high school students and already have reached out to County officials and school board members, said Greg Wims, the newly elected governor of this area’s clubs.
“Family members leave their unfinished medications in their medicine cabinet for two or three years,” Wims said.
“We want to teach fifth-graders to tell their family to discard” the unused medicines before the youngsters take them to get high or try and sell them, he said.
Also, he said, club members will spread the word that anyone can get addicted to drugs and alcohol. Wealthy professionals and people who take pain medication, not just the poor and unemployed, he said.
The Rotary Clubs has declared a state of emergency in response to the heroin, opioid and fentanyl crisis, Wims said. There were 2,089 overdose deaths in Maryland last year, according to the Rotary Clubs’ news release.
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) declared a state of emergency as well. Earlier this year, he pledged $50 million during the next five years for support of enforcement and prevention services.
Tom Allen of the Columbia-Patuxent Rotary Club, who is chair of the new program, knows all too well what drugs and alcohol can do to a person. He lost his stepson, who died of an overdose after struggling with addition for 22 years.
Together with his wife, Barbara Allen, the couple run James Place Inc., a nonprofit that supports those battling addiction that was named for Barbara Allen’s son.
“I’ve lost three people,” she said. Her brother and a niece, along with her son, all lost their lives due to an addiction, she said, adding that one died of an overdose, her brother was murdered and her niece committed suicide.
“They all suffered from the disease of addiction,” she said.
“This is a disease. It is not a decision,” added her husband.
Educational forums and round tables will be held throughout the year, with the first one scheduled for Aug. 3 at the University of Mount St. Mary’s Frederick Campus.
“Rotary members are professionals with connections throughout the community. We will be able to reach a lot of people,” Allen said.
Opioid-related overdoses are increasing rapidly in Montgomery County. Last year, there were 154 nonfatal opioid-related overdoses, a whopping 175 percent increase from 2015. During that same period, there were 56 fatal overdoses, a 9 percent increase between 2015 and 2016, according to Capt. Paul Liquorie, director of the County Police Department’s Special Investigations Division.
Throughout the United States, there were an estimated 59,000 overdose deaths in 2016, according to a news release from the Rotary Clubs in Central Maryland and Washington, D.C.