New South County Substance Abuse Committee Forms to Combat Growing Problem

Alarmed by a growing substance abuse problem in South County, a new group has formed—one with a mission to prevent young people from using drugs and alcohol in the first place. The group does not have a formal name yet, but they have been meeting the first Friday of the month at the Southern District Police Station in Edgewater since March.

The group is a coalition of community partners, including representatives from law enforcement, parents, schools, churches and health care. They got their start through a private grant aimed at reducing underage drinking and substance abuse in the Southern part of the county.

The South County coalition marks the arrival of the third such group in Anne Arundel County. In North County, they’re called, “Northern Lights.” That group has been in existence for three years. A West County group, Western Anne Arundel Substance Abuse Prevention (WASP), launched in 2012. Both have met with success in terms of using data to drive their mission.

The South County group met last Friday at the Southern District station in Edgewater for a working lunch where they began to outline their mission and to set up an organizational structure. Attendees ranged from a dad in Shady Side whose son has struggled with addiction to representatives from Owensville Primary Care and Doctors Express to nurses from Anne Arundel Medical Center, plus police officers, an assistant pastor from Mt. Zion United Methodist Church and representatives from the health department and community non-profit organizations.

Sandy Smolnicky of the Anne Arundel County Department of Health facilitated the gathering. At the April meeting, Smolnicky had distributed the results of a 2012-13 voluntary survey of students in South County who had attended the Prom Breakfast or classes at Anne Arundel Community College. The results, while not a comprehensive look, began to outline a serious problem for our community, in not just attitudes towards drugs and alcohol, but also usage.

In fact, Southern District has had an increase in the past 24 months of heroin use and overdoses. This is not just a problem for our community. The governor of Vermont recently spent his entire State of the State speech addressing the epidemic of of drug addiction in his state.

In Anne Arundel County, police recently became equipped to carry the opiate antagonist Narcan. The issue hit close to home again recently when a 2013 graduate of South River High died of heroin use on Easter Sunday.

Each meeting has been attended by about two dozen people. Smolnicky puts the attendance list of the three meetings in total at around 50 or so individuals.

All of the people at the Friday meeting were committed to finding ways to reverse the trend among our young people. In fact, the Northern Lights coordinator said that the South County group seemed to be full of “go-getters.” While actively working to improve the situation, he cautioned against jumping in to feel-good approaches and to instead follow the data and do what is proven to work.

Some of the things that the groups in the other sectors of the county do to combat teen alcohol and substance use include things like providing funding for the prom breakfast. Southern High’s prom will take place on May 10, while South River’s will be the following Saturday (May 17). For years now, both schools have hosted prom breakfasts, where students get to come after the dance to hang out with their friends and win big prizes. Southern High gives away a car each year, courtesy of Upper Marlboro Ford (formerly Ron Bortnick Ford). The lure is the prizes and the fun atmosphere. The takeaway is that it keeps students from hosting their own drinking parties off-campus. It has made prom night much safer.

A South County coalition will combat drug abuse.

A South County coalition will work to combat drug and alcohol use among young people.

These groups also check out local liquor stores to see if they are luring children. Do they sell kid-friendly things like candy to get kids used to coming into the store? Are they chronic offenders of liquor ID compliance checks?  At the next meeting, one of the group participants, Mark, will be presenting the findings of a South County sweep of liquor stores.

The group can also implement awareness activities and educate parents and the community. Aside from prevention strategies, the group may also look at ways to bring in the treatment and recovery aspects of addiction.

The next meeting will take place on June 6 at noon at the Southern District Police Station, 35 Stepneys Lane in Edgewater.

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About Mitchelle Stephenson

I've gotta tell Mitchelle! Send your South County news tips, brag on your fab volunteers, talk traffic, police and fire or just say "howdy" to Mitchelle Stephenson, co-founding editor of the South River Source. Mitchelle@SouthRiverSource.com or reach me in person on mobile: 410-353-4706.

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