ROCKVILLE – Although deaths from drug overdoses are down by 30% this year as compared to last, county officials declared at a press conference on Oct. 18 that there still is much more work to be done.
So far this year, 49 people have died from overdoses. Another 320 people recovered, mostly thanks to Naloxone, an overdose reversal drug.
In September, there were seven overdose deaths, and 38 lives saved with Naloxone.
“This is not going to go away quickly, so we need a long-term solution,” declared County Executive Marc Elrich during a windy outdoor press conference at Memorial Plaza in Rockville.
“We certainly can’t arrest our way out of the problem,” he said, adding, “It’s easy to become addicted. It’s a lot harder to come off.”
That is why, Elrich said, the county joined a lawsuit against opioid drug manufacturers “who knew exactly what they were doing.”
The lawsuit is more than just punitive, he said. The drug companies need to provide funds to pay for more recovery beds and recovery programs.
Health and Human Services Director Raymond Crowel explained that multiple county departments work together to prevent someone from becoming addicted. They also strive to educate the public and get drugs off the streets.
The county works with its fire and rescue employees to know exactly when and where overdoses are taking place, he said.
However, “Government is never going to solve this alone. It’s going to take every last person in the county to make this work,” Crowel said, adding, “every single death in Montgomery County is a painful loss.”
The county has a new website, KnowTheRisksMC.org, which includes information on treatment options and support groups, he noted.
Also speaking at the press conference was Councilman Sidney Katz, who called the use of opioids “an epidemic in this county.”
Referring to the 49 county residents who have died so far this year, Katz said, “That’s a staggering number. We are working together to get that number to zero. That’s our goal.”
Jacqueline Fleming could have been one more overdose statistic.
“I survived a total of 18 Narcan overdoses,” she said referring to the number of times she was revived from near- death.
“In one day alone, I overdosed twice,” she said.
Both times, she walked out of the hospital, although she was told not to. The second time, as she was walking away, “I was struck by a truck.”
She received life-threatening injuries and was hospitalized for 21 days, she said.
“These three events that occurred in one day did not result in the conclusion of my drug use,” she told the audience.
At the time, she was a mother of a 1-year-old boy.
Fleming said she couldn’t break her habit at that time because she wasn’t ready. “It’s a measurement of willingness,” she said of how her recovery finally took hold.
“I had family support. It’s just when I was mentally ready,” Fleming said, noting, “There are so many moving parts” to addiction and recovery.
When asked how she got started on drugs, Fleming replied, “I was a college party girl,” who started with drinking.
She also blamed genetics, which she said predisposed her to addiction.
Fleming said the county needs more crisis beds and after-treatment life-coaching programs.
On Oct. 31, she expects to mark her one-year anniversary of “complete absence of all mind- and mood-altering substances.”
Addiction “is such a complex disease,” she said, adding, “I am beyond humble and proud to be up here” talking about her recovery.
The Naloxone that saved Fleming’s life multiple times is used often in the county.
Between July 1, 2018 and June 30, 2019, more than 1,500 residents attended free training, and almost 2,500 Naloxone kits were given out.
Also addressing the audience was Meghan Westwood, executive director of Maryland Treatment Centers, who said those addicted need help and guidance for months, even years.
Short-term rehabilitation centers are only one tool, she said, noting, “28 days isn’t curing anybody.”