Ending the Heroin Epidemic and Increase in Crime in Frederick County

karlbickel_crop300wThe Problem

Frederick County is in the midst of a growing epidemic of heroin abuse. The increase was predictable as deaths were trending upward and heroin abuse, particularly in suburban and rural communities, had been increasing for years. Abuse of prescription drugs, particularly the semi-synthetic opioid OxyContin, had been on the rise and been getting attention for some time and should have been seen as a warning signal. Unfortunately, the emergence of this trend in Frederick County was ignored until record numbers of people began to die.

Frederick is located between the cities of Baltimore and Hagerstown, known as centers of heroin abuse in Maryland even when much of the rest of the country saw decreases in heroin use, as cocaine became the drug of choice among abusers. As OxyContin was reformulated and efforts to curb prescription drug abuse were getting off of the ground, it was a natural and predictable transition for drug abusers to turn from prescription medications to another opioid. Coupled with the lower cost of heroin verses OxyContin on the street, particularly in a community that is centered between two cities with a long history of heroin abuse, the transition was inevitable and foreseeable.

According to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, in 2013 Frederick County set a record for heroin overdose deaths. Last year there were 21 overdose related deaths, up from 10 in 2012. The crisis has gotten so serious the Office of National Drug Control Policy labeled Frederick County as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA). Frederick is one of only 28 counties, out of over 3,000 counties nationwide, with this distinction.

It has been said by some that the HIDTA designation is a good thing because it will give our county access to federal funds to combat the heroin problem. This may or may not happen because the allocation of resources is determined by a Regional Executive Board that looks at the level of coordinated efforts in intelligence gathering, prevention and treatment options, management initiatives, and multi-agency efforts in determining funding at the local levels. The lack of a coordinated effort within Frederick County and its communities as well as a lack of communication and coordination with surrounding jurisdictions does not create a favorable case for Frederick. In addition, the ongoing Department of Justice investigation into civil rights violations by the Sheriff’s Office does nothing to strengthen Frederick’s position for HIDTA funding.

Because the increase in heroin abuse and crime went unaddressed by authorities we are behind the curve as the problem and resulting deaths from overdoses continue to grow unabated. Town hall-like meetings that lay the blame on the victims of addiction and their parents are not going to solve the problem. Likewise, the solution is not to focus on limited arrests for possession of heroin.

The Solution

Although we are playing catch up as a community, with a comprehensive plan we can overcome both the heroin scourge and increase in crime. But to do so we will need to engage all stakeholders and hit the problem from three directions: Education, Treatment, and Enforcement.

Education

As your Sheriff, I will institute a robust cooperative program partnering with our schools to support, develop and deliver a comprehensive training and education program to be provided to school administrators, faculty, support staff, students and parents. It will cover the roles and responsibilities of each in curbing the heroin epidemic in and around our schools as well as the community at large. In addition, training of our School Resource Officers will be enhanced and expanded with an emphasis on prevention and enforcement measures to address drug abuse in and around our schools.

Treatment

It is time that we recognize that our heroin epidemic is a public health problem based on a scientifically demonstrated chronic disease of the brain. Thus, arresting and jailing addicts will not solve the problem. We will work closely with the public health community and our network of health care stakeholders to identify those in need of treatment and get them into appropriate treatment programs. As Sheriff, I will work to secure federal and state support and funding for improved treatment programs for those addicted to drugs in our communities.

Enforcement

Although the Sheriff’s current efforts have shown that we cannot arrest our way out of the heroin and rising crime problem, law enforcement does play an important part in turning around this problem. Strict enforcement of the sale and distribution of illicit drugs is essential to disrupting the supply and availability of the product, thereby jeopardizing the profit of those who would prey on a vulnerable population – the addicted.

As your Sheriff we will be paying particular attention to the points where heroin abuse intersects with the unprecedented 23% increase in serious crime plaguing the unincorporated portions of our county, the areas for which the Sheriff’s Office is primarily responsible. Starting with a focus on prevention efforts for crimes like shoplifting, theft, burglary and robbery, that are often a product of the heroin use, we will enhance and expand our efforts through redeployment of personnel assets and use of improved technologies.

Furthermore, my Sheriff’s Office will rebuild and strengthen the partnerships with law enforcement in the region to stem the tide of illicit drugs from Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC. Each of these cities serves as points of entry for Heroin into our community and the region. To best handle the crisis in Frederick we must work with the surrounding jurisdictions, sharing resources, information, and best practices.

A New Approach

It has been said that the first sign of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results. What we are doing now in Frederick clearly is not working. Its time to adopt a new approach – one that can turn the tide of heroin abuse and rising crime.

As your Sheriff, saving lives will be a priority.

First, all deputies will be trained in administration of Narcan. In June, I attended a class at Frederick County Behavioral Health Services on how to administer Narcan in the case of an overdose emergency. In just 90 minutes the attendees of the class were provided the training and resources to save a life in the case of a heroin overdose.

Next, all patrol cars will carry Narcan. In Quincy, Massachusetts, police patrol vehicles have been equipped with Narcan and Narcan-trained officers since 2010. As of January 2014, they had administered Narcan 221 times, reversing 211 overdoses. At $22 a dose, it is an inexpensive lifesaving tool that should be readily available to all emergency services personnel in Frederick County.

In addition, all School Resource Officers will be trained in Narcan as well as the signs and symptoms of addiction.

Putting “community” back into community policing

Tying all of these efforts together will be a Community Crisis Command Center (CCCC) supported by a CompStat process that will be unique to our community. The CCCC will act as a central clearing house to collect and disseminate information, assign tasks to individual stakeholders, measure results and monitor the activities and progress of each partner. With this information, the center will be able to chart the overall progress and identify where adjustments must be made in addressing the heroin epidemic and associated crimes.

Designed as a management tool, CompStat was originally introduced by the New York City Police Department and has been successfully utilized by police departments throughout the nation. Based on a multilayered approach CompStat facilitates the use of personnel, geo-mapping, real-time data and other resources to address crime and quality of life issues.

In Frederick County we will take CompStat to the next level by including community stakeholders in the process. To do so, we start with a countywide summit that invites all stakeholders to participate – police, public schools, health, business, prosecutors, judges, faith based organizations, political leaders, non-profits, students, parents, colleges and universities – just to name a few in our community. Each of the stakeholders has a role to play in ending the current heroin epidemic and associated crimes in our communities. Following the summit, regularly scheduled meetings are held with the stakeholders to provide opportunities to share ideas, recognize emerging issues, modify strategies and ensure progress is made, as well as seeing that stakeholders are held accountable for their contribution.

In the end, it is going to take leadership, collaborative partnership building, communication, trust, and basic problem solving to move Frederick County towards a solution. However, if we as a community take ownership of these problems and unite, we can overcome our heroin and crime problems.


SOURCES

Addressing the County’s Heroin Epidemic, Frederick News Post Opinion, August 3, 2014

Congressional Budget Submission: Executive Office of the the President Office of Drug Control Policy. Fiscal Year 2014 and 2015

Fighting heroin will take whole community, Frederick News Post Opinion, March 23, 2014

Fighting the Heroin Scourge. Emmitsburg News Journal, August 2014

Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Bill, 2014. July 23, 2013. House of Representatives Report 113-172.

Heroin Research Report. National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institute of Health. February 2014. www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin.  
Karl Bickel, Candidate for Sheriff on the Growing Heroin Problem. Courtesy of Emmitsburg News-Journal. Friday, August 1 2014. page 11

Law Enforcement Shines Light on Drug’s Spike in Frederick County. Frederick News Post. October 14, 2013.

Narcan now! Frederick News Post; June 10, 2014
White House Drug Policy Director Announces Designation of 12 Counties in Nine States as High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas. November 14, 2013. Press Release of Office of National Drug Control Policy.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Envision Frederick County does not endorse candidates running for Sheriff or other offices. We are publishing this as a thoughtful and important contribution to the public discussion about a subject of growing concern in our community.

We would be pleased to publish a discussion about the subject between Mr. Bickel and Sheriff Chuck Jenkins, if they are willing to engage in one, on the record.