Baltimore County, Md., now shows signs of a shifting mindset on the community's drug problem—literally. Outdoor signs depicting total and fatal overdoses in the county are being installed in prominent spots outside local police precincts, after a long period in which it appeared county leaders weren't eager to acknowledge a drug crisis in their community so openly.
“This was five years in the making,” says Zach Snitzer, director of business development at Maryland Addiction Recovery Center.
The addiction and co-occurring disorders treatment program and other local businesses have sponsored the signs so that public dollars would not have to be used, Snitzer says. But he attributes much of the community's changed perspective on the drug issue to the efforts of advocate Toni Torsch, who lost a son to an accidental overdose and later established the Daniel Carl Torsch Foundation.
Snitzer says Torsch and her family (two sons work with her on foundation) have been instrumental in numerous efforts around the opioid crisis, including initiatives to increase access to naloxone and to promote Good Samaritan legislation. “She is the actual definition of recovery advocate,” Snitzer says.
Phone resource for support
The signs show year-to-date numbers for both overall overdoses and fatal overdoses in the county. Plans are to update the numbers periodically. The year-to-date numbers that are currently shown are 780 total overdoses and 185 lives lost.
The signs also include a local phone number for treatment and other support resources (410-88-REACH), a service that connects callers to the local health department for information.
Snitzer says there are plans to install several more signs around the county; seven have gone up in the first round of activity. He says County Executive John Olszewski and other county leaders have been supportive of the effort to increase public awareness of the impact of the opioid crisis.
At one time in the county, he says, the message from leaders was one of denying that a community more affluent than the neighboring city of Baltimore could have any kind of drug problem.
But the raw numbers simply make it impossible to maintain that position, Snitzer says. He has sensed a change in the perspective of many county leaders as of late. When the treatment center he co-founded first opened, local leaders largely kept their distance. “We're now more able to get people to come here,” he says.