Before his addiction to heroin, Karl Otto says he had a picture-perfect life.
Although he battled alcohol and drug issues in his teens, Otto began to flourish by age 20. Over the next several years he secured a steady job, got engaged and bought a house.
However, a prescription for Percocet after a wisdom tooth extraction in his late 20s led to an addiction to the painkiller itself and later heroin for the Frederick resident.
“My life went from picture-perfect to absolutely ... I can’t even describe how bad it got,” Otto told the half-full auditorium at Frederick Community College on Thursday evening.
As his life spiraled out of control, Otto found himself arrested on drug charges and soon after, attempting to overdose on heroin.
“I should be added to that list,” Otto said of state-released data on fatal heroin-related overdoses. “Heroin almost killed me.”
In Frederick County, 26 people died from heroin-related overdoses in 2014, according to data recently released by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Law enforcement officials, health experts and community advocates discussed the heroin and opioid epidemic in Frederick County and available solutions during a town hall Thursday sponsored by Gaudenzia Inc. and Gale Recovery.
From a law enforcement perspective, Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins highlighted his agency’s interdiction efforts, while Capt. Pat Grossman, acting chief of the Frederick Police Department, talked about the city police’s recent effort to connect addicts to resources immediately after police interaction.
Ken Dickinson, a registered pharmacist who represented Gaudenzia, one of the region’s largest drug and alcohol addiction treatment programs, advocated for stricter policies for prescribers to prevent residents from being overprescribed or unnecessarily prescribed drugs such as Vicodin and Percocet.
“The pharmaceutical industry very insidiously and very measured went about educating, training and convincing primary care, family doctors in the community that they could now write for these very powerful, long-acting [medications],” Dickinson said, explaining the widespread abuse of prescription drugs.
As a preventive measure, Gaudenzia President and CEO Michael Harle argued for a structured curriculum that begins in kindergarten and continues until 12th grade to educate children about the dangers of drugs.
“There is no too early,” he said, noting that many of the company’s clients say they began using drugs as early as 11 years old.
The panelists agreed that distributing information about the heroin and opioid epidemic and providing the public with knowledge to seek treatment and help is essential.
“Public awareness presentations like this one tonight, that each person in this room, go home and talk to your family, talk to your kids, your grandkids, siblings, and make them aware of how bad the problem really is,” Jenkins said. “I think that’s where the real solution lies.”
Noelle Workman, who attended Thursday’s town hall, said she had hoped there would be more discussion about innovative ways to address the heroin epidemic.
“I heard a lot of talking and a call for action, but not a call to action,” Workman said, explaining the panelists provided possible solutions but offered no ways to implement these changes.
Cynthia Terl, who helped spearhead the event as a representative of Gale Recovery, a local nonprofit addiction treatment program, said she thought the town hall went well but lamented the low attendance.
“We had hoped there would be more parents interested in finding out” about the problem, Terl said after the event.
There are no set plans to hold a similar event in the future, but Terl said Gale Recovery will support any efforts by other agencies or companies in the community.