New Awareness Campaign Targets Opioid Crisis

New Awareness Campaign Targets Opioid Crisis

SNOW HILL – A new public awareness campaign is designed to target the growing number of opioid users in Worcester County.

This week local health and law enforcement officials joined together to launch the “Decisions Matter” opioid awareness campaign. The effort includes television commercials, billboards and radio ads stressing the importance of good decision making.

“It has a two-pronged approach,” Worcester County Health Officer Debbie Goeller said. “One is to encourage adults to secure medication. Second is to inform young people about the loss of freedom to make choices about their life once they become dependent on substances.”

The campaign was launched by the Opioid Awareness Task Force, a subcommittee of the Worcester County Drug and Alcohol Council. The council, according to chairman Doug Dods, has been meeting since the 1980s to address concerns about local drug and alcohol abuse. In recent years, its primary concern has been the increase in opioid misuse. Both prescription opioids — drugs like oxycodone — and illegal opioids — heroin — are being abused in Worcester County.

“On the Eastern Shore, there was an 80-percent increase in heroin related deaths from 2011 to 2012,” Dods said, adding that 7.4 percent of Worcester County 12th graders reported on the Maryland Youth Risk Behavior Survey that they had used heroin.

Four billboards spreading the campaign’s message will be visible in Worcester County.

Four billboards spreading the campaign’s message will be visible in Worcester County.

The rising popularity of the drugs in Worcester County prompted Dods and his group to form a subcommittee, the Opioid Awareness Task Force, to generate strategies to make the public more cognizant of the dangers associated with the drugs. The local effort comes just as Gov. Larry Hogan’s own Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force made 10 recommendations — several of them centered on increasing awareness — aimed to stop the spread of heroin use.

Hogan’s 11-member task force, made up of substance abuse experts, law enforcement and a mother who lost her daughter to a heroin overdose, released a report Tuesday. Among its 10 recommendations are the creation of “Overdose Awareness Week,” a student-based heroin prevention campaign and earlier incorporation opioid prevention into health curriculums. The report also provides information on funding announcements that will improve access to treatment for those battling addiction and increase community based naloxone — the drug used in case of a heroin overdose — training.

“During the campaign, the Lt. Governor and I visited every corner of the state and everywhere we traveled, we heard the same tragic stories of how the heroin and opioid epidemic was destroying families and communities,” Hogan said in a news release. “Over the last six months, the Task Force has held six regional field summits and spoken with hundreds of Marylanders who have lost loved ones to the disease of addiction, as well as treatment providers, educators, public health and law enforcement officials, and other vested stakeholders.”

The task force is expected to issue a final report in December.

For now, in Worcester County, the “Decisions Matter” campaign will remind residents why it’s so important to take care with their prescriptions and advise teens and young adults of the dangers of opioids.

“We didn’t want to overreach so we thought we’d target specific groups,” said Worcester County State’s Attorney Beau Oglesby.

He said the subcommittee wanted to direct the campaign toward future drug users.

“There were programs in place to deal with current addicts,” he said, “our goal was to try to stop new users.”

That, he says, is why the billboards, commercials and radio ads area targeting youth as well as their guardians.

“We hope by educating and informing our youth they will be less likely to take a prescription pill from their grandparents’ medicine cabinet,” Oglesby said. “That they will be less likely to use heroin for the first time. We hope by educating and informing parents and grandparents and caregivers they will go through their medicine cabinets tonight and they will look for substances that are dangerous.”

A new prescription medication drop box has been installed at the Franklin Street entrance to the Worcester County Government Center. Residents can drop unwanted medications in the locked box 24 hours a day.

Because there were 14 opioid overdose deaths in Worcester County last year, Goeller says the county has been working to make sure more first responders and even family members of those dealing with opioid addiction know how to use naloxone in case of an overdose. She hopes “Decisions Matter” campaign will stop addiction before it ever occurs.

“Today we’re taking things a step further to try to prevent our young people from starting to use these drugs and to inform the public about the potential dangers,” Goeller said. “We learned through focus groups that young people really value the freedom to make their own decisions and their own choices. Addictions make choices for you.”

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.