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Letter: Opiate Addiction is Hidden Epidemic

Lisa Lowe, founder of Heroin Action Coalition of Montgomery County, submitted to Patch the testimony she delivered at a Montgomery County budget hearing this year.

I am Lisa Lowe, founder of Heroin Action Coalition of Montgomery County.  I am here to urge you to fund prevention and treatment for an epidemic that is rampant.  There has been a funeral in Damascus approximately every three months for the past three years for kids under 24 years of age.  Opiate addiction is Montgomery County’s hidden epidemic; its number one health problem; as well as its number one budget problem. 

Three minutes does not give me enough time to convince you of those facts if you are unaware of them. Hopefully, you will take the time to read this report, Opiate Addiction: Maryland’s Hidden Epidemic, which clearly outlines the problem of addiction and substance abuse disorder as well as the “best practices” for treating this problem.   It also explains why spending for prevention and treatment makes fiscal sense, when you consider that millions of dollars are spent as a result of untreated addiction, on crime prevention and enforcement, incarceration, social services, healthcare, emergency room services, and foster care.  For every $1 spent on prevention and treatment, taxpayers save $12.

As a parent of a recovering addict, I was appalled to discover that ‘best practice’ treatment, is non-existent in this state.   I was horrified to learn that my insurance would not cover the programs that licensed medical practitioners suggested.  I felt hopeless as I desperately competed for space in residential treatment only to discover that conditions in some facilities were abusive, violent, outdated, and implementing the opposite of nationally recognized ‘best practice’ standards.  I felt beyond angry when I finally had to resort to calling my state legislators and harassing them daily for weeks in order to get my son the life-saving treatment he needed. 

Baltimore has been coined the Heroin Addiction Capital of the U.S. and Montgomery County is Baltimore’s marketing territory.  THAT MAKES US THE HEROIN ADDICTION CAPITAL OF THE UNITED STATES.  But, even though we are one of the richest counties in America, we have only 107 possible beds where an adolescent can enter treatment for addiction in the entire state.  According to the Maryland Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration, 20,000 Maryland adolescents needed but did not receive treatment for drugs in 2010, while only 5,800 adolescents who needed treatment, received it.  Unfortunately, they are not here to advocate for their share of county tax dollars. 

Why, not?  Where are the parents of kids who have overdosed, kids killed driving on opiates, kids who shot themselves when they could not stand one more day of addiction, and kids who have found some way to end their lives when they find themselves in jail as a result of their addiction?  Why have you not heard from their friends or family asking that the County spend tax dollars to end this monumental tragedy?

Well, because there is such a huge stigma surrounding addiction that both parents and kids find it beyond difficult to admit.  You see, I am the tip of an iceberg.  I am the part of a community in mourning that is willing to be visible.  I have talked to parents who did not even tell close relatives what the real cause of death was.  Parents who had hoped their children would grow up to go away to college, get well-paying jobs, raise a family of their own, have a hard time standing up in front of a crowd of strangers and saying my son died of a drug overdose, or my daughter shoots heroin and needs help.  Even though young adults are losing their friends at the rate of one every three months, they are still scared to talk to their parents, or worse, to talk to you. 

While treatment remains non-existent or difficult to access, enforcement is blatantly obvious.  If the young adults in the County have attended to many funerals to keep track of, they know just as many friends wasting their potential behind bars, for a neurological disorder they did not know how to control or overcome.  65 percent of all inmates meet medical criteria for having a substance addiction.  Without adequate, sufficient and accessible treatment, it is no wonder that these young adults see their alternatives as uncontrollable addiction, jail, or death.  So they remain invisible. 

Please make prevention and treatment of substance abuse disorder and addiction a high priority in your upcoming campaigns and please spend this summer meeting with local community representatives, and make it your business to find out why our current system of treatment is inaccessible, unsuccessful, and downright degrading, in order to end this nightmare epidemic.  

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