Worcester Endorses Heroin Coordinator Position

SNOW HILL — The Worcester County Commissioners agreed this week the county’s “all hands on deck” approach to the troubling proliferation of heroin needs at least one new set of hands.

The county will now wait for official approval from the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention on a grant-funded Heroin Coordinator position, which will work alongside the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office and focus primarily on processing all of the data that’s been collected in the recent battle against opiate and heroin related cases in Worcester.

“We have an epidemic in this county,” said Commissioner Diana Purnell. “We need all the help we can get.”

Purnell made the motion to approve the grant application to the state, which will create the full-time position in the county.

Several elected officials also penned their support, including Senator Jim Mathias, Delegate Mary Beth Carozza, and Worcester County State’s Attorney Beau Oglesby.

“The opioid and heroin epidemic our community is enduring requires the establishment of a dedicated law enforcement agent to capture the data required by HIDTA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Program), as well as manage the extraction of data contained within cellular devices for proper prosecution of drug distribution crimes,” said Mathias in a letter sent to the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention.

Sergeant Nate Passwaters, a member of the Worcester County Criminal Enforcement Team, says the need for a person to focus primarily on the data that’s been collected at heroin related crime scenes in the past two years alone is long overdue.

“We can never have enough help,” said Passwaters. “There is plenty of work right now and we have to prioritize our resources to fulfill the need   We have seven investigators in the county, and even though heroin is taking up a lot of our time, we have other drugs to monitor and enforce too.”

Passwaters says the county’s new coordinator won’t be out in the field like other investigators, but rather will be mining much of the data that’s been collected in overdose or heroin related incidents and filing it in the state’s central repository system/server.

“We treat every overdose like a crime scene now,” said Passwaters. “In doing that, we have been very successful compiling information from those scenes and that has directly led to us apprehending many suspects or the suppliers.”

In addition, Passwaters says the heroin coordinator, which will be paid an annual salary of $41,000 plus benefits, will focus on pulling data from apprehended cell phones and other digitally stored information.

“It’s going to be a lot of analytical-numbers crunching kind of stuff,” said Passwaters. “We can link who is talking to who and extract data that has even been deleted from the phone itself.  We have been stretched thin in recent years as this problem has gotten worse, so to have someone running the data and the numbers and trying to make sense of what is going on out there, will be a huge help.”

The position, according to Passwaters, is only funded for one year, but if the county is approved the grant application by the state, it will include investigative equipment and software.

In Oglesby’s letter of support for the grant application, he said the new coordinator would be working alongside him as well.

“The heroin coordinator would work with my office to specifically examine opioid/heroin overdose cases with an eye towards prosecution and holding those that would deal drugs in Worcester accountable,” he said.

About The Author: Bryan Russo

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Bryan Russo returned to The Dispatch in 2015 to serve as News Editor after working as a staff writer from 2007-2010 covering the Ocean City news beat. In between, Russo worked as the Coastal Reporter for NPR-member station WAMU 88.5FM in Washington DC and WRAU 88.3 FM on the Delmarva Peninsula. He was the host of a weekly multi-award winning public affairs show “Coastal Connection.” During his five years in public radio, Russo’s work won 19 Associated Press Awards and 2 Edward R. Murrow Awards and was heard on various national programs like NPR’s All Things Considered, Morning Edition, APM’s Marketplace and the BBC. Russo also worked for the Associated Press (Philadelphia Bureau) covering the NHL and the NBA and is a critically acclaimed singer/songwriter and composer.