Despite recent reports of increased use of heroin and other drugs in Damascus, police and county health officials say the problem isn’t isolated to one corner of the county.
Concerns about drug abuse in the Damascus area were raised during the Montgomery County’s recent budget hearings, but Capt. Luther Reynolds, commander of the Montgomery County Police Department’s Fifth District in Germantown, said he doesn’t believe the problem is specific to that area.
“I wouldn’t say we have a Damascus-centric issue. I think we have a countywide issue. National, really,” Reynolds said.
According to testimony presented by the Heroin Action Coalition at a council budget hearing April 11, 26 young people have died from drug overdoses in the Damascus area in the past two years. Those numbers could not be independently confirmed.
A county advisory group will host a forum Thursday at Damascus High School called “The Changing Faces of Addiction,” at which parents can ask questions or raise concerns about drug use among teenagers and young adults.
The group is trying to get input on problems related to drugs and discuss possible solutions, said Tracey Butler, a liaison to the county’s Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Advisory Council.
Zip codes other than Damascus have shown more opiate abuse based on data from hospital emergency rooms, said Raymond Crowel, chief of behavioral health and crisis services for the county’s Department of Health and Human Services.
Data from emergency rooms show the highest numbers in Gaithersburg, Germantown and Silver Spring — rather than Damascus, he said.
According to statistics from the Maryland Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration, admissions to treatment programs statewide for oxycodone rose from 2,091 in fiscal 2008 to 4,892 in fiscal 2011.
Admissions for other opiates increased from 1,397 to 2,662 during the same period.
In fiscal 2011, Montgomery treatment programs reported 52.51 admissions for prescription opiate addiction per 100,000 people in the population older than age 14.
Reynolds said police have made some drug arrests in the Damascus area, but making more arrests won’t solve the problem. Reynolds did not immediately know how many arrests had been made.
“I’m really not focused on the number of arrests. I want quality cases,” such as people with prior drug records or histories of violence, he said.
He said it will take cooperation between the police, schools, parents, the faith community and others to combat the problem.
Butler hopes Thursday’s forum will help to foster that sort of cooperation.
The event will feature speakers as well as doctors and Health and Human Services staff that will try to address any concerns.
The gathering also will try to open a public dialogue and lift some of the stigma that’s still attached to drug addiction, she said.
“People don’t talk about it,” she said.