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Rural areas are finding different ways to combat opioid epidemic

Linda Auerback, Carroll County Health Department substance abuse prevention supervisor, gives a presentation during a school staff training on opioid addiction prevention. (Submitted photo.)

Linda Auerback, Carroll County Health Department substance abuse prevention supervisor, gives a presentation during a school staff training on opioid addiction prevention. (Submitted photo.)

As the Carroll County Health Department’s substance abuse prevention supervisor, Linda Auerback teaches classes often in the public school system. In late May, she taught a drug prevention class to a gathering of seventh graders — four of which had already lost a parent to overdose.

As a part of the drug prevention curriculum, the movie ‘Heroin Kills’ is shown to middle and high school-aged children. Following the story of a teen who snorts heroin, the film was created and shot in the county. The 35-minute movie went viral, decades before the trend started, being shown in 47 states and 11 countries at schools, treatment facilities and detention centers.

While the message of prevention, recovery and hope is timeless, the movie was made in the late 1990s. Over the past several years, Auerback, who produced the movie as a part of the grassroots group Parents Attacking Drugs, has been asked if a revamped version could be done to include prescription opioid drugs and the synthetic drug fentanyl. Last year, Carroll County State’s Attorney Brian DeLeonardo offered to provide funding for a rebooted movie through his office.

On July 19, the health department is holding an open casting call for the updated film. Set to be filmed in August, Auerback is hoping for a fall release.

“We’ve had close to 100 calls and emails about people wanting to audition for various parts,” she said. “Everybody has their reasons for wanting to be involved. We have a lot of people that were involved in the original or they were personally touched by substance abuse in their family.”

They are also looking for people to do a number of roles including makeup, grips, setting up scenes and being extras.

“There are lots of ways that people can be involved,” Auerback said. “We will give community service hours. We really, really love working with young people and giving them a voice because if you get them involved at an early age they have some groundwork laid there and hopefully they will be a good role model for their peers and have the courage to say no because everybody will be exposed at some time to some sort of substance abuse.”

The movie is just one of the ways rural communities are addressing the ongoing opioid epidemic. Auerback notes CCHD has 17 pages of different programs and outreach efforts to combat the national health crisis including a new mobile crisis response unit with peer counselors and social workers. One of their partnerships is with Carroll Hospital.

“I think the beauty in a rural community is you are able to work together and create those synergies,” said Sharon McClernan, vice president of clinical integration at the hospital.

Patients who come to the hospital’s emergency department are screened for opioid use and/or misuse and are referred to Access Carroll Integrated Healthcare, a nonprofit offering behavioral health, dental and medical services to uninsured and low-income individuals. Access connects patients with a peer counselor to get them into treatment.

Recently, Access added weekends to their office hours. Before, if a patient were seen on Friday, they may not get an appointment at Access until Monday or Tuesday.

The hospital is also educating the public on their pain management policy. Gone are the days of patients getting a month’s supply of opioids when they routinely only need a day or two at most.

“We do not give anyone any more than three days worth of an opioid or enough to get them to their appointment,” McClernan said. “So if you come in and break your arm and today is Wednesday and your appointment is Saturday we will give you enough pain medication to get you to Saturday when you have your doctor’s appointment.”

McClernan notes the hospital has worked to reduce the number of prescriptions and educate the public on where they may properly dispose of expired or unused medications.

In mid-April, Aberdeen Proving Ground along with the Maryland National Guard and other local organizations helped to distribute 100,000 pouches designed to make unused prescription pills ineffective across the state. Using the Deterra Drug Deactivation System, unused medication can be placed inside the pouch, fill it halfway with warm tap water, seal and shake for 30 seconds. Carbon inside the environmentally-friendly pouches bonds with the pills rendering them useless.

Donated by community and commercial organizations, 60,000 pouches were taken by National Guard troops to four armories across the state while the remaining 40,000 were distributed to agencies in Baltimore, Kent, Harford and Cecil counties.

“There are many ways to dispose of medications,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Jody Brown. “We have the take back program where a person can turn in their prescriptions at a given location on a given day but you always want more than one solution to a problem.”

APG hosted an opioids summit in the fall to discuss the crisis with community leaders and see how they could help. “This problem is everyone’s responsibility and that we at the APG are appreciative to be a part of the solution,” Brown said.

In the spring, APG hosted the play ‘Addicted’ which focuses on three young adults struggling with addiction to alcohol, heroin and prescription pain pills but also captures the effects on family members and friends.

Christle Henzel, a school psychologist and licensed therapist in Bel-Air, wrote the play five years ago after seeing her late brother struggle with addiction. The play has been shown at area high schools and churches.

Henzel notes a play gets viewers emotionally involved in the story instead of reading materials or listening to a lecture. “They become a part of the story,” she said. “… (The play is) starting a conversation. I think it is spreading awareness. It provides healing in some ways for families. A lot of people after the show will come up and say ‘That is my story’ or ‘That reminds me of my son or my daughter’ It teaches empathy. It gives people an awareness of what addiction looks like.”


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