It has been called a crisis or national emergency—an epidemic the likes of which the nation has never faced. Aberdeen Proving Ground leadership led an effort to confront the opioid problem head-on when the installation hosted the National Opioid Crisis Community Summit, Sept. 7.
APG Senior Commander, Maj. Gen. Randy Taylor, hosted the event, which included guest speakers, working group breakout sessions, and a tour of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense, where the summit was held. Subject matter experts in the fields of drug detection and treatment, law enforcement, first aid and healthcare came together to share information and build relationships in the continued fight against the war on opioids.
“It’s good to see the community come together,” he said. “On behalf of the 27,000 Americans that work, live and retire here at APG, thank you all for coming.”
He added that with its state of the art chemical laboratories and research and development missions, APG has the best chemical agent countermeasures in the world – a capacity not found anywhere else in the Department of Defense.
“As chemicals have been built for good use, over time they have also been used for harm,” he said. “Experts here know how to handle that.”
Taylor wholly established the installation as a stakeholder in the current crisis noting that the Veterans Administration annually treats more than 66,000 former service members for opioid addictions. He said the summit was the result of an ongoing effort by organizations on post, such as the Army Substance Abuse Program, the Directorate of Emergency Services, Army Community Service and Kirk U.S. Army Health Clinic, as well as like programs and agencies within the surrounding communities.
Guests included Maryland Lt. Governor Boyd K. Rutherford; Harford County Executive Barry Glassman; Cecil County Executive Dr. Alan McCarthy; Charles Hedrick of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Baltimore; Clay Stamp of the Maryland Opioid Task force and Maj. Gen. Barbara R. Holcomb, commander of the U.S. Army Medical and Materiel Command.
Rutherford said Governor Larry Hogan, in declaring a State of Emergency, gave the state the tools to combat the crisis. This includes, he said, the opening of the State Opioid Command Center which is tasked with developing operational strategies and supporting prevention, treatment, and enforcement efforts to manage the crisis.
He added that the state has invested $50 million to combat the epidemic.
“We must do more to combat the flow of drugs into our communities,” he said. “We can start by raising awareness and talking to our kids about the dangers. It is everyone’s fight and it will take all of us … working together in an all-hands-on deck approach.”
Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, emphasized that “complete recovery is possible” through the combined efforts of public schools and community drug intervention efforts of law enforcement, health providers and medical responders.
“Opioids have never been more widely available or more deadly,” he said. Harford County recently surpassed the total number of heroin related deaths for 2016.
He thanked APG for hosting the summit adding that Harford County’s collaborative approach has always been unique.
“We will always be the leaders in the effort to save lives,” he said.
Clay Stamp, Senior Emergency Management Advisor and Chair of the Governor’s Emergency Management Advisory Council, gave a brief overview of the state’s strategy for this crisis. According to Stamp, there are 33 elements to fight the opioid issue but the numbers continued to rise, and in March, the Governor declared the opioid problem in Maryland, a “crisis.”
“This crisis is huge and the objectives to dealing with this crisis are three fold: expansions of care, prevention, and enforcement,” Stamp said. “Four things we need to work on are: elevate and maintain the conversation, focus our energy, data driven precision, and persevere.”
Jennifer Tippet, who lost her husband, Justin Tippett to an overdose, Oct. 16, 2016, and Sandi and Nolan Gallion, who lost their 24-year-old son Nolan Gallion III, Jan. 25, 2015, both discussed the devastating consequences opioids have inflicted upon their families.
Sandi Gallion said education and awareness are needed to win the fight against illicit drugs.
“You think it won’t happen to your child. You raise your child a certain way. But it can happen to anyone for any number of reasons,” Gallion said. “Prevention is the key. We have to start young—the younger the better. And we need to educate parents who don’t understand the whole addiction process and think they don’t need to.”
“We can all learn from this,” she added regarding the summit. “I learned so much since I lost my son. I didn’t know much about all this before that—but I wish I did.”