A total of 111 opioid overdoses — 15 of them fatal — have been reported by Frederick County law enforcement agencies so far this year, according to the county sheriff’s office’s latest numbers dating back to Tuesday.
Less than a month ago, on March 31, there were a total of eight overdose deaths, meaning almost half of the deaths so far this year have happened in just the last 25 days. In fact, the numbers change so rapidly that officials weren’t even able to post the overall number of overdoses on a new billboard unveiled Thursday morning at the county’s work release center, said Vivian Laxton, a spokeswoman for County Executive Jan Gardner.
“We actually ran out of numbers,” Laxton said. “We didn’t have enough ‘1s’ to put up the combined overdose total of 111.”
For the time being, the sign lists the 96 nonfatal overdoses separate from the 15 fatal overdoses to passing motorists on Buckeystown Pike in front of the work release center on Marcies Choice Lane.
The data presented on the billboard will be updated every month to reflect the latest totals collected by the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office from its own deputies as well as other county police agencies. The totals were estimates and not verified by county or state health departments, which do not publish such data until well after the end of a given calendar year.
Thursday’s event was attended by several advocacy groups and leaders in the fight to raise awareness about the opioid epidemic, including Carin Callan Miller of the Maryland Heroin Awareness Advocates network.
Miller, also a founder of a weekly support group that began meeting at the Crossroads Center in Frederick in 2014 called Save Our Children, said the sign was needed to show people struggling with addiction that they aren’t alone.
“This is too important to me because I see the stigma of our loved ones who are struggling with a disease every day,” said Miller, whose 28-year-old son has been in recovery for 2½ years.
Gina Pezza-Carbaugh, who founded the Richard Carbaugh Hope Foundation in memory of her son who died from an overdose in 2012, was also in attendance Thursday. Pezza-Carbaugh’s group was behind a recent effort to put similar signs in place in Thurmont.
As for the sign on Buckeystown Pike, the stated purpose was to illustrate “the impact of the heroin and opioid epidemic that has been destroying lives in Frederick County and across the nation,” as well as to “raise public awareness as part of the county’s fight to end substance abuse,” according to a news release issued by the county executive’s office Wednesday.
The sign cost about $1,200 and was funded entirely by Miller’s advocacy group and the Crossroads Center of Frederick with labor and some supplies of wood and other parts provided by the county, Miller said.