The statistics regarding opioid addiction in Montgomery County, Maryland are sobering. Over the past year, there have been 253 deaths from overdose in comparison to the 177 the country saw in 2015. On Tuesday, February 21st, a panel met to discuss the current situation of drug abuse and to spread awareness and hope that numbers can come back down in 2017.
The town hall meeting took place in the Human Services Center on DeHalb Street. Speakers included Chief Deputy Michael Beaty of the County Sherriff’s Office, Dr. Valerie Arkoosh, Montgomery County Commissioner, Kay McGowan, Montgomery County Deputy Administrator of Drug and Alcohol and drug recovery advocates (and recovering addicts themselves) Gary Billings from the Salvation Army and Benny Mosakowski from Malvern Institute, a private treatment center for addiction.
With such a diverse group of speakers, many different stories were shared with the crowd of nearly 70. Stories of addiction, hope, prevention and the road to recovery were emotional and resonated with the crowd as tears and cheers were alternatively shared.
In addition to the crowd in attendance, the event was streamed live on Facebook, which was sponsored by the Conshohocken Plymouth -Whitemarsh Rotary Club in conjunction with the State Rep Matt Bradford, D-Montgomery. The event was moderated by Paul McConnell, former Conshohocken Borough Council President.
The crowd applauded widely as Mosakowski proudly accredited a 12-step-program to his sobriety from heroin since March 27, 2012. Opioid addiction isn’t an isolated issue. In 2015, the leading cause of accidental death was opioid overdose, leading to the deaths of 52, 404 across the United States. Addiction doesn’t discriminate. Children 12 to 17 are becoming addicted to painkillers and other medications that they perceive as “safe” since they are prescription medication. Unfortunately, this lulls them into a false sense of security with accidental overdoses occurring daily.
In 2015, 276,000 adolescents ranging in age from 12 to 17 used painkillers for nonmedical reasons with 122,000 reportedly addicted to these pills. Mosakowski himself answered the question where opioid addiction begins. Without missing a beat he stated that it starts in the medicine cabinet. What begins with sneaking a parent’s prescription pills can end in a full-blown heroin addiction in a matter of years or even months.
Many believe that the current state of health care is to blame. One man in the crowd shared a recent hospital experience. He said that the doctor was so eager to prescribe opioid medication while he was recovering from a gallbladder surgery. Many addicts become addicted in cases just like these. They never sought out medication for recreational use but rather became addicted after using opioids under the direction of a physician.
Kids often fall prey to these prescriptions innocently enough as well, speakers continued to point out. Sports injuries are common in youths and doctors who are naive about the current state of addiction are often prescribing these medications right away to help alleviate pain. What they don’t realize is that they may be helping pave the road to years of addiction.
Arkoosh, who practiced anesthesia in her career, spoke to the audience about alternatives to opioid painkillers and the importance of going through the medicine cabinet and getting rid of old prescriptions that could fall into vulnerable hands.
A drug called naloxone is used to block the effects of opioid drugs and reverse overdoses is being used to save lives across the country. At the end of the meeting, the drug was dispensed to members of the audience who felt they, or someone they knew, would benefit.