For many people, the idea that there is a severe heroin problem in their town, much less with their own family or friends, is something they can’t imagine.
But in the past year there have been as many as 25 deaths triggered by heroin overdose in Frederick County, said Jacque Burrier, president of Project Hope Thurmont Md. “That’s just from the Sheriff’s Office report; I think there could be as many as 10 more as they went to hospitals outside of the county.”
Burrier said many overdose cases go to nearby Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, or Montgomery or Carroll county hospitals and aren’t counted locally.
“There are no boundaries,” Burrier said when referring to who may become an addict. “No race, no financial or political lines that the disease of addiction is not touching right now, so we need to work together.”
Burrier, a resident of Thurmont, and her son, Jeremy, launched the nonprofit Project Hope Thurmont in 2013 after the death rate rose for young people in her community attributed to drug overdose.
So far, about 30 people have been helped through the project.
Four people the Burriers knew died from overdoses within four months, which gave them the incentive to start the volunteer-driven program.
Burrier seeks to use positive reinforcement to get addicts help through rehabilitation programs.
“Doctors have proven that addiction is a disease, but society has made addiction a stigma and by doing so, these lives are being lost by just being swept under the carpet,” Burrier said.
Programs have helped athletes, nurses, doctors, politicians and lawyers, Burrier said. “Addiction doesn’t discriminate. This disease is heartbreaking, the effects terrifying and it is ripping families apart across the nation.
“Addiction is a disease, whether it is something an addict is born with or something an addict requires over an extended period of hazardous use,” Burrier said.
Since starting the program, Burrier has spoken to prisoners in Martinsburg, West Virginia; at the Frederick County Adult Detention Center, to Boy Scouts and high school students, as well as parents and others about dealing with addiction.
Her efforts are getting responses.
Adam Dubitsky, from the communications office of Gov. Larry Hogan, said the new state administration will launch a major campaign to combat the heroin epidemic in Maryland.
In a letter to Burrier, Dubitsky said he wants to meet with her to discuss her program in more detail and get a perspective of how to address the disease of addiction at the local level.
Sgt. Jim Robinson, of the Washington County Narcotics Task Force, is referring those arrested for drug problems to Burrier’s organization for help.
But there are still challenges, Burrier said. There is no mandatory drug education in Frederick County public schools past the ninth grade. Higher grade students are only taught about the problem at teachers’ discretion.
“These are critical years for children, they are losing loved ones and friends to something they don’t understand,” Burrier said.
Idle times lead to abuse
Even as law enforcement steps up efforts locally, addicts travel out of the county to get heroin.
“It’s easier to get heroin than to get pills,” said Troy (not his real name). A landscaper with a small child to care for, Troy said his road to addiction started with marijuana at 13 or 14, then to alcohol, crack cocaine and pain pills to heroin.
“You can make a road trip to Baltimore and get a half gram for $50 or a gram for $100. That’s cheaper than locally, where it can cost $150 to $200 for a gram,” Troy, 27, said in an interview. “A lot of people get it in Baltimore and then bring it here to sell for the money. You can get it so easily. Just go to where you see the guys waiting or just make a phone call.”
Tammy (not her real name) said she picked the wrong friends.
“I dated a drug dealer, got addicted, first to pain killers then heroin,” said Tammy, who has fought the addiction on and off for two years. She’s been working with Burrier for a year and in rehabilitation programs.
“I didn’t want to go at first, but I had hit rock bottom,” Tammy, 21, said. She went to in-patient rehab and now gets a shot of vivitrol on a scheduled basis. “It has helped me stay clean.”
Troy said keeping busy at work or with family is important. It is the idle times that an lead to abusing drugs and becoming addicted.
Heroin addicts find their bodies develop tolerance to the drugs and stronger doses are needed. “I started sniffing it, then shooting it, I needed the stronger dose,” Troy said.
Medications such as naloxone, suboxone and vivitrol help. “But you can get addicted to suboxone, so vivitrol is a good alternative,” Burrier said.
‘No cookie-cutter solution’
Getting help through the Department of Social Services can take a long time, Burrier said. Applicants have to return to the office over and over, Burrier said, which is difficult for those who may not have transportation and really need the help as soon as possible. With an insurance card from the state, the addict can seek in-patient rehab help.
But the waiting list is long. Troy was able to get into a rehab system, but had to go out of Maryland as the sites here were full.
“There is no cookie-cutter solution, so every addict is treated differently,” Burrier said. “We follow through, we’ve been helping addicts get in treatment since June 2013 and we still keep in touch with each and every one we have worked with.”
Burrier said the key to success is working together as a team. Law enforcement, parents, teachers, community activists, recovering addicts who can tell what they went through, all can help educate the public on the crisis and what they can do to help.
Burrier said there is still the belief of some people that addicts simply brought the problem on themselves and shouldn’t be helped. Or that if they really want to break the addiction, it just takes willpower.
These are myths, Burrier said. Drug addiction is a disease that changes the brain and continues to keep the user imprisoned unless help is offered.
And the impact on the community is something that can’t be ignored. Crime, the cost of health care, the loss of people who could be productive members of the community, all are part of the growing problem facing communities around the nation.
“We are in need of qualified help in many sectors,” Burrier said.
Burrier, who works as a full-time nanny for a local family, said she deals with at least four patients a day and works directly to get them into treatment. “A lot of them are connected,” Burrier said of the addicts, “They know each other, are friends.”
Jeremy Burrier is studying addiction counseling and social work at Frederick Community College, He plans to transfer to Salisbury State University to continue studies in social work, eventually getting a master’s degree.
Erik Legg of Thurmont, known by many as DJ Ewok for his entertainment business, is the media and entertainment specialist for Project Hope Thurmont Md. He has worked on the organization’s float for a parade in Thurmont and will coordinate fund-raisers for the project. Legg was honored for his community service in raising funds for charities by the Thurmont Lions Club.