Harford County has seen 112 overdoses and 18 lives lost to heroin so far this year, and officials are worried the trend will continue.
“This time last year at the end of May, we were approximately at 50 some non-fatals, right now we’re at 94,” Captain Lee Dunbar, commander of the Harford County Narcotics Task Force and Special Investigations Division, said. “We were at 12 fatals last year, and currently we’re at 18.”
To start bringing some federal aid and attention to the problem, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin and Representative Dutch Ruppersberger visited Harford County for a roundtable discussion with county officials, who are battling the epidemic on the front lines.
Cardin and Ruppersberger agreed that heroin and opioid addiction is an issue that crosses party lines, but, as Ruppersberger said during the discussion, “the only bad news, at this point, is that we don’t have the funding.”
When funding can’t be agreed on in Congress, it can be harder for it to reach the local level. That’s becoming a bigger problem in Harford County, where detectives investigate every single heroin death as if it were a homicide.
“If we can target that dealer or the drug trafficking organization that provided them with the heroin that resulted in their death, we can present that to our federal prosecutors and charge them accordingly and indict them federally,” Dunbar said.
These kinds of investigations take, on average, 40 hours of work—and sometimes as much as 80 hours of work, Dunbar said.
Funding could also make its way to nongovernmental organizations working to fight the overdose epidemic.
Robin Keener is the executive director of Homecoming Project, Inc., a state-certified halfway house for women recovering from alcohol and substance abuse. She said that, as part of a two-person staff, it can be difficult to get money from federal grants.
“That’s why we apply for county grants, because they do most of the heavy paperwork,” Keener said.
Cardin said he hopes that the funding for fighting heroin and opioid abuse can be passed on a bipartisan basis, and quickly.
“The number of people we’re losing to opioid and heroin addiction is just so alarming,” Cardin said. “It’s happening in every community, here in Harford County and every county in Maryland, we have an unbelievable number of people who are overdosing.”
According to a report from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, opioid deaths increased 76 percent between 2010 and 2014.