Maryland County Launches 'Safe Stations' Program To Fight Opioid Crisis

Maryland County Launches 'Safe Stations' Program To Fight Opioid Crisis

By Paul Gaita 05/01/17

Anne Arundel County firefighters, paramedics and police are banding together to offer 24/7 assistance to local residents battling addiction.

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A group of firefighters posing inside of a fire station.

As health and law enforcement officials in Maryland prepare to battle a projected new wave of opioid-related overdoses in their state, representatives from Anne Arundel County are offering direct aid to individuals seeking to break the grip of addiction.

In late March, County Executive Steve Schuh announced the launch of the "Safe Stations" program, which designated fire and police stations in Anne Arundel County and its county seat, the city of Annapolis, as a safe location for individuals to make the first steps in recovering from their heroin and opioid addictions.

The initiative links together Anne Arundel County and Annapolis firefighters, paramedics and police with the county's Crisis Response Team to provide 24-hour, seven-day-a-week assistance to any county or city resident who enters a fire or police station seeking help.

Upon arrival and request for assistance, firefighters and paramedics will perform a medical assessment to determine if the individual needs immediate medical attention. If there is cause for concern, emergency medical services will transport the individual to a local hospital or medical facility, while the Crisis Response Team (CRT) will alert hospital staff that a Safe Station is en route to their facility and will need immediate attention.

If there is no need for medical attention, the CRT will be notified that there is an active Safe Station case and then determine which option is best for the individual, including access to the county's detoxification services. Any needles or other drug paraphernalia, as well as drugs or other illegal substances, will be collected and/or disposed without threat of arrest.

Individuals with active warrants or notices for failing to appear in court will not be barred from assistance; however, as Anne Arundel County State's Attorney Wes Adams stated, "[People] need to know they can safely walk into [any] station and understand we will move them along the path to resolve those consequences, but our priority is to get them into treatment."

The latest data for drug overdose deaths in Maryland shows more than 1,400 fatalities occurring between January and September 2016, which surpasses the total number of overdose deaths for 2015 in its entirety.

Most recently, state health and police departments have issued special alerts about the presence of the animal tranquilizer carfentanil in the heroin supply, which has been linked to three overdose deaths in April 2017, with more expected in the weeks to come. Schuh and other county and city representatives see the Safe Stations program as a chance to provide real assistance to addicts in a crucial time.

"Like so many other aspects of this crisis, government is not going to solve this problem alone," he said. "We need the help of each and every member of the public to let everyone know that these resources are available and that there is hope, there is help."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites. 

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