As the rain poured down on Ocean City, the litany of tourists teetered onto their beach house decks.
But in the high arched walls of the First Presbyterian Church, the tone was somber, filling the room of around 50 attendees.
This was the third meeting of the Worcester County Warriors, a group dedicated to providing education, awareness, support and access to resources for those affected by the opioid epidemic.
Heidi McNeely, a founding member of the Warriors and mother to a son who suffered from opiate addiction, gave the opening words.
“We are tired of the heroin epidemic, we are tired of the overdoses and we are tired of the deaths,” McNeely said. “We’re advancing this mission so we can save this county.”
Following McNeely’s opening remarks, she introduced Senator Jim Mathias, who had powerful words regarding the epidemic.
“I’m not going to ask you to raise your hands, but if I were to first ask everyone who has suffered from opiate abuse, then anyone who had a family member who has suffered from opiate addiction and then anyone who had a friend or a loved one suffer,” Mathias said. “I’d guess that every person in this room’s hand would be raised.”
Mathias went on to remark on the cyclical nature of drug epidemics from his experience as a politician.
“First we had crack and all come in and we had to take that off the street,” Mathias said. “But then all of a sudden the prescription drug thing came with pill mills popping up, and we came down on them and broke them up, and then heroin. We were able to get that prescription drug monitoring in that got us able to find out who these doctors were that were abusing scripts and hold them responsible.”
The Maryland Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, founded in 2011, is a program in place to, as Mathias described, help reduce prescriptions for pharmaceuticals that contain controlled substances, such as Vicodin or Roxicet, for patients that may not necessarily need them. This coincides with the year of the highest opiate prescriptions on record nationally, with 219 million total prescriptions given, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The heroin epidemic is fueled by prescription opiate abuse, being that it is a stronger, cheaper opiate-based drug, which once the pill market becomes more scarce, becomes the drug of choice for many addicts.
Kimberly Widglen, mother of a veteran who has suffered from heroin addiction, worried that enough isn’t being done to help addicts such as her son.
“When my son was arrested, he was released and given a court date 8 months from then,” Widglen said. “That was plenty of time for him to be out on the street and to OD.”
Bob Carey, executive director of Teen Challenge in Seaford, a part of a national faith-based rehabilitation program, spoke next.
“There is a war going on with drugs, and drugs are winning,” Carey said. “When you look at the people who are incarcerated, nearly all of them will tell you they were intoxicated at the time. I’ve never heard of someone committing a burglary without having some kind of drug or alcohol being a factor.”
Carey’s claim is that, for those that complete Teen Challenge’s year-long program, which entails one month of secular rehabilitation followed by eleven months of faith-based initiatives, 86 percent stay sober.
Ryan Ellis, who completed Teen Challenge, spoke on the impact it’s had on his life.
“I was drawn to a more rebellious way of thinking,” Ellis said. “Which led me towards drugs, a life of crime. I ended up on heroin, it started on pills first, which is typically the story you’ll hear nowadays…I had multiple armed robberies, some undocumented…and in lieu of going to jail, I was sent to Teen Challenge. I graduated Teen Challenge, and I’m now I’m giving back to that ministry because it so impacted my life and I’m now a leading example to the life they’re talking about. That there is an answer to this monstrous epidemic.”
Following the Teen Challenge presentation, Jim Freeman of Second Wind Halfway House for Men, awarded a check of $2,000 to the Worcester County Warriors for there efforts to address and combat the opioid epidemic.