Amanda Nicole Sweeney has big dreams. She wants to be a tattoo artist. She wants to sing.
She wants to go to Mount St. Mary’s University to study photography, and she wants to learn about the culinary arts at Frederick Community College.
But first, she wants to break free of her addiction to heroin.
Sweeney, 30, said she quit using heroin “cold turkey” about a month ago. She went through withdrawal without medication.
She doesn’t have a home, but stays with friends or co-workers. Her 8-year-old son lives with his father and her 11-year-old daughter lives with Sweeney's parents. She sees her kids for a few hours each week.
Sweeney is staying busy to keep her mind off the drug. She writes poetry about love, addiction and eviction, and she works for small businesses that do landscaping, construction and cleaning.
Since she quit using heroin, she has connected with Emmitsburg Cares, a grass-roots activist group seeking a solution to drug problems and crime in town.
“They send me prayers. They send me support,” she said. “They really help me with my mind and soul.”
Emmitsburg Cares, which has a Facebook page with more than 800 followers, first met two months ago at Emmitsburg’s town office.
Liz Buckman, an Emmitsburg resident who is leading the group, was elected a town commissioner last month.
Buckman said Emmitsburg Cares is “coaching” Sweeney toward a clean lifestyle and “re-enfranchising her into the community.”
To do that, the group encouraged her to enter a February boxing competition in Martinsburg, West Virginia, called the Toughman Contest. Sweeney registered for the event, and Buckman bought her protein powder to help her train.
“Overall mental and physical health is what we’re aiming for,” Buckman said.
Though that might help Sweeney, town residents long have been concerned about opioid addicts and drug dealers in Emmitsburg.
Emmitsburg Cares started with three residents — Buckman, Kathleen Walker and Mayor Don Briggs’ wife, Libby — and their conversations about the opioid epidemic.
“They’ve been watching this place for years, and they wondered, ‘Why haven’t the deputies done anything?’” the mayor said at the group’s first meeting.
Residents who spoke up said they were also frustrated with the status quo.
“Everybody likes to flap their gums, but nobody ever does anything,” one said.
From 2010 through 2015, the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office received 109 calls involving drugs in Emmitsburg.
Buckman has lived in Emmitsburg for a dozen years.
“Since I’ve moved here, I’ve noticed the quality of life dropping and the crime rising,” she said at that meeting.
She talked about concerns about heroin, prostitution and armed robberies in Emmitsburg.
“We don’t have the tools, besides unity, to take care of these problems,” she said.
Though the sheriff’s office received no calls regarding prostitution or armed robbery from 2010 to 2015, Buckman said prostitution is a newer problem in town.
Town commissioners and sheriff’s deputies who patrol Emmitsburg have encouraged residents to call police if they see something suspicious, such as a possible drug sale.
“We have to have the sense of pride of place to make this a better place,” Commissioner Tim O’Donnell said.
Sweeney’s father, Commissioner Clifford Sweeney, declined to speak to The Frederick News-Post for this story.
Briggs said drug addiction has been a difficult issue for the town government to deal with.
“It’s like a cloud that floats around,” he said. If law enforcement pushes addicts and sellers out of Emmitsburg, they move to Pennsylvania or to other parts of Frederick County.
“It’s like a cycle. It’ll come back here stronger,” he said.
Emmitsburg’s commissioners and staff are working to find extra money in the budget to pay for a third sheriff’s deputy to assist the two currently patrolling the town.
A few years ago, Briggs asked the commissioners to support a change in town laws that would make landlords responsible for illegal activity on their properties. That would create a watchful eye over potential addicts or dealers, he said, but he hasn’t gotten the community’s support for that change.
In the meantime, the town is working with sheriff’s deputies to reduce drug activity.
“It’s an age-old story. We know where it is, we’re pressing hard, but at the same time, there is a lot of police activity undercover that is going on,” Briggs said.
To help addicts who recently became sober, like Sweeney, Briggs said what’s really needed is something like a halfway house: a place they can stay after rehab to rebuild their lives and get adjusted to working life.
But Briggs said he hasn’t found a place to put one.
“People get really nervous that you have one of these houses in the community. They’re afraid of them,” he said.
The burden of supporting those recovering addicts falls on nonprofits, churches and helpful residents in Emmitsburg, he said.
“We’ll do what we can,” Briggs said. “It’s our community, and it’s our children.”