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Education, awareness efforts underway

By AMANDA SCOTT

Staff writer

Nearly a decade before Jake Paddy died, he was in a motorcycle accident and had to have major surgery. To deal with the pain, his doctor prescribed him pain medication, and that was where his addiction to prescription pills began.

After he was in jail and placed in rehab and, subsequently, a halfway house, he was clean for almost two years, said Paddy’s mom, Ginger Rosela of St. Leonard.

A couple months prior to his death, Paddy wrecked his 4-wheeler and had to have surgery on his leg, Rosela said. The doctor prescribed him pain medication, and Rosela said Paddy expressed his concern and explained his addiction to the doctor. But the doctor assured Paddy it would be OK, Rosela said.

About a month before Paddy, 23, died, Rosela said someone else who was using told her that her son was using heroin.

“I said, ‘No way. No way,’” Rosela said, but she confronted him, anyway, and he said he wasn’t using.

Then, on July 19, 2013, Paddy’s dad and younger brother found him dead in the bathroom.

“It was six months ago, but it feels like yesterday,” Rosela said. “Now, I’m trying to help others so they don’t have to live the hell that I’m living ’cause it is hell. … Jake’s death cannot be in vain. I’ll do whatever I have to do so that other people don’t have to live this.”

Calvert County has struggled with a prescription drug problem for years, and now, the county is seeing an increase in heroin use.

There have been an increasing number of heroin overdoses by Calvert County citizens in the past several months, many of whom have been found dead in surrounding counties, according to a news release from the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office. However, due to privacy restrictions of medical records, it’s extremely difficult to provide an exact number and the locations of the overdoses, the release said.

Capt. Steve Jones of the sheriff’s office said Monday that the department has certainly been responding to more heroin overdoses and seeing an increase in the number of heroin cases.

“We have people that live in Calvert County that are found dead in Anne Arundel that had overdosed on heroin and died,” Jones said. “These are people that live in Calvert that went elsewhere to get it.”

Jones said the sheriff’s office recognizes that heroin is in the county, but it is “easier to get in other areas.”

During a forum Tuesday, Sheriff Mike Evans (R) said there have been two known heroin overdoses just this year.

With the recent heroin overdoses, there has appeared to be a common theme: The addiction began with prescription drugs, and the user eventually switched to heroin, according to the sheriff’s office release.

“It’s a natural progression because heroin is cheaper and easier to get,” said Carol M. Porto, program director of the Carol M. Porto Treatment Center in Prince Frederick. “They’re the same drug, essentially, because they’re opiates.”

Porto said in about 60 percent of the center’s patients, the addiction was triggered by legal prescriptions, and it developed from there.

“It all started with prescription pills. That’s the gateway,” she said.

During the forum, Chris Shannon of Calvert Advanced Life Support said that in 2013, the responders administered 79 doses of opiate antidote. Steve Stanton of CALS said the antidote is only administered in “the really severe cases” so that number is “actually low in the grand scheme of things.”

A majority of the antidote doses are administered in the southern portion of the county, Shannon said, specifically in the Lusby area. About 20 were administered in Chesapeake Beach and North Beach, and then the remaining doses “are spread throughout the county pretty evenly.”

The Calvert County Department of Social Services also has noticed the opiate use increase through the cases on which it is working, Amye Scrivner, director, said during Tuesday’s forum.

There are about 100 children in social services care currently and about 70 percent of those cases are because of opiate and drug use, she said. There is a 50 percent positive drug screening with those families, Scrivner said.

In 2012, Calvert County State’s Attorney Laura Martin said Tuesday during the forum, 4.9 percent of her office’s cases were “pill cases,” and that rose to 6.9 percent in 2013. At any given time, she said, two-thirds of her office’s felony narcotics cases are “pill cases.” Forty-eight percent of the prosecuting docket are non-narcotic cases, but 109 cases “had some sort of pill involvement,” Martin said.

The thing today, Martin said, is that there is a real shift in who is an addict.

“What we’re seeing now is our high school football players, our straight-A students,” she said.

Fellow panelist Dr. Fulton Lukban, who works at Calvert Memorial Hospital, said during the forum that “we seem to have a fixed mental image of these patients, but … anyone can be a user. You can never tell.”

Several signs of possible drug use, Lukban said, are unreliability at work, moodiness, not accepting responsibility, frequent doctor visits, insolent behavior, though “not no one single behavior indicates a drug user.”

Rosela said no one would have guessed her son was an addict.

“You wouldn’t think my son was a heroin addict. It does happen to everyone,” she said, crying. “Of the four kids, he was the sweetest kid I had. He was a good kid.”

Martin said her office is prosecuting the offenders, but that doesn’t solve the problem.

In Southern Maryland, there is a lack of treatment services for those who don’t have the ability to pay, which is common among addicts, Porto said. At $12 per dose of a daily medication for several years, it is expensive treatment, she said.

Buprenorphine, an opiate medication, is used to treat an opiate addiction, Porto said, explaining that it allows the brain to get rid of the extra opiate receptor sites in the brain that were created with the use of opiate drugs.

The problem, though, she said, is that a medical doctor has to have specific certification to administer this drug, and each doctor can only handle 100 patients at a time — there are four of these doctors in Calvert County, she said. The Carol M. Porto Treatment Center employs two of them, Porto said.

“We don’t have enough doctors to prescribe this medicine,” Porto said.

In addition to the medication, treatment also involves counseling and education, Porto said.

“It’s like any other disease — for example, diabetes” because a patient receives medication, but they also receive education and have to change their lifestyle and habits, she said.

On average, her center receives 40 calls a week for help, and 30 are because of addiction to pain pills or heroin, “and this has been going on for years. This isn’t new.”

Dr. Roe Rodgers, director of Calvert Substance Abuse Services, said the center receives “a lot” of calls asking for referrals and services. In fiscal 2013, CSAS received 2,300 calls during 272 hours, Rodgers said. In fiscal 2014, which ends June 30, she said her office has so far received 1,800 calls for service.

CSAS receives funding from several state and local sources, but funding is always an issue, Rodgers said, citing that there are still five months left this fiscal year and the office is almost out of funding for new patients.

“The key for the county is to realize that there is a problem,” Jones said. “We have a problem here, and we need to address it and do everything we can to help them.”

There are numerous educational and support group programs available in Calvert County. For information on these groups, programs or where to seek help, call the Calvert Alliance Against Substance Abuse at 410-535-FREE (3733), or go to www.co.cal.md.us/CAASA. For treatment services, call Calvert Substance Abuse Services at 410-535-3079.

ascott@somdnews.com