Two years ago I discovered how bad our crime and drug abuse is in Cecil County and have since attempted to address. What I have discovered during those two years should shock the public especially if you have had family or loved ones exposed to drug addiction. The very ones who are responsible for addressing these issues have failed us miserably but even worse it seems they have done so intentionally. Why? At this point I can only assume there is more money for certain individuals and departments in maintaining and promoting addiction than in solving the problem.
This is only Part I and there are other players I will be calling out. For now, let’s start with our Local Drug and Alcohol Abuse Council (LDAAC). This Council was initiated by executive order in 2004 by Governor O’Malley and all of the Maryland Counties were tasked with creating their own LDAAC’s to identify how to best address their local drug abuse and addiction issues. There was a funding mechanism created and the Governor chose which of the LDAAC’s requests he would support in each of the local strategic plans. To supposedly ensure these initiatives were effectively addressing local drug abuse, six month reports were required to be submitted to the DHMH showing the progress.
Sounds like a good plan but for the two years I have served on this Council, Chairman John Bennett led us to believe the Council was only advisory, we didn’t have a vote and when someone wanted to serve as co Chair, he stated: “I don’t know where the bylaws are, I don’t know if we can have a co Chair, and I don’t know who the voting members are of this committee.” That’s when I and other concerned citizens did our homework and demanded information that was being withheld. After a month we finally received the bylaws, we stumbled upon the real purpose of the LDAAC’s, the strategic plan and the 6 month progress reports which were exclusively submitted by Ken Collins with no vote by the Council.
When one of the members of the Council even suggested removing John Bennett, both Mr. Collins and Mr. Massuli of the Cecil County Health Department said they would never support because he goes to all of the meetings with Collins to represent LDAAC. Let me point out that the bylaws state the Chairman is not permitted to speak on behalf of the Council unless the Council permits it. I noticed the bylaws stated we would have a secretary and I asked who that was. Mr. Collins spoke up and said he was the secretary despite there never being a vote to place him in that position.
So in the two years I have served on the Council, I have been able to bring HIDTA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Federal Designation) to Cecil County for additional resources to address drug trafficking, I have organized and held over 10 Drug Awareness Forums, and scheduled Marie Allen of Heroin Hurts in our public schools. I have also requested supporting data that our methadone treatment facilities in the County are working and proposed new policies to make it more transparent and effective.
Mr. Bennett and Drug Czar Ken Collins on the other hand have went out of their way to obstruct and block any forward progress. After the Roundtable in August, many Cecil County departments revealed Cecil County’s drug addiction became much worse after the 6 week waiting list was created due to the shutting down of half the treatment beds at A.F.Whitsitt Center in Kent County. I went down to Whitsitt and confirmed this had a huge impact on access to recovery and that the health department was instead referring everyone to methadone maintenance until their name came up on the waiting list. Many of those on the waiting list could not qualify for recovery because their methadone levels were too high, the phone numbers no longer worked, they changed their mind, or were arrested.. Mr. Bennett sent me an email discouraging opening the additional recovery beds at A.F.Whitsitt and that was Mr. Collins response as well.
Have they intentionally diverted clients to methadone maintenance facilities? We were equally surprised to hear DHMH justify that their definition of successful methadone treatment was the longer you stay on methadone. So a 10 year client on methadone is more successful than one only on it for 5 years?! We have requested the state stat data that was required to be collected on the methadone facilities to show how many clients have kept their jobs, successfully stayed in recovery, or suffered a relapse. We were repeatedly promised that information from Nancy Turner of Serenity Health, and from DHMH. However, I was just informed by a DHMH representative that they stopped collecting that data due to push back of the private treatment facilities.
The latest collusion has been with Chairman Bennett claiming that the LDAAC at their last meeting supported the initiatives proposed by the County Executive. This was not true because Drug Czar Collins said he didn’t have a copy of her letter at the meeting so it was never reviewed and no vote taken. Chairman Bennett wrote a letter to the editor and sent out many emails requesting Cecil County organizations send letters of support to the Governor supporting the County Executive’s initiatives and that he was writing the letter on behalf of LDAAC that voted on and supported the initiatives.
Another important development was the Community Health Advisory Council Meeting which I am supposedly a member but did not receive a notice of the meeting. I stumbled upon the meeting date after researching what the LDAAC’s responsibilities are. This is the Council which the LDAAC and the other advisory councils report to with their initiatives. You could clearly see that Director Garrity was surprised to see me there and I invited other concerned citizens to attend so there would be witnesses. When Chairman Bennett provided the LDAAC Report, both Bennett and Collins claimed that LDAAC supported the County Executive’s initiatives. It was interesting that the Drug Czar Collins also identified himself as the Director of the Alcohol and Drug Recovery Department which Mike Massuli was supposedly assuming the responsibility for while Collins served under the County Executive.
I spoke up and said that LDAAC never voted or reviewed the initiatives and that Mr. Bennett has misrepresented his position as Chair. Follow the money - Where is the County Executive proposing to divert the LDAAC Funding? The methadone maintenance facilities ($100,000 for residential treatment) and the Schools ($275,000) for a recovery high school. These initiatives, however, were never vetted or scrutinized before by LDAAC so how do we know if this is the best recourse for attacking drug addiction in our County? But even worse, the LDAAC process was put into place to ensure special interests couldn’t get their hands on this recovery money. What performance measures or data does the County Excutive have to back up $100,000 in additional funding to the private treatment facilities for intensive outpatient therapy? A DHMH counselor has already stated that this doesn't work because the addict needs to be removed from their environment to effectively start recovery. It has already been identified in the Health Resources in Action Study and from many in the treatment community that the demand or logjam to recovery is for detox and intensive inpatient therapy. So why would we ignore this fact and invest in treatment that probably won't be effective? My concern is that two of the main private treatment providers in the County is Serenity Health and the Elkton Treatment Center. They are campaign contributors to the Cecil Business Leaders for Better Government - a political action committee which supported the Moore/Hodge/McCarthy slate and is now supporting Councilwoman Bowlseby.
If you have a story to tell on how you or a loved one was obstructed from access to recovery, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monday, February 10, 2014
Monday, February 3, 2014
Governor Martin O’Malley
100 State Circle
Annapolis, Maryland 21401
Dear Governor O'Malley,
I am writing to bring an important matter to your attention.
The Cecil County Executive, Tari Moore, has just forwarded to you a list of her initiatives to address our drug abuse crisis in the County.
I was under the impression that there was a process in place to properly vet initiatives to address drug and alcohol abuse. Your Executive Order in 2008 created the State Drug and Alcohol Abuse Council. The State Legislature mandated that each county would have their own local Drug and Alcohol Abuse Council (DAAC) to establish their own initiatives and plans to be forwarded to the State Drug and Alcohol Abuse Council and your office for funding.
While A.F. Whitsitt has previously been discussed and researched, other County Executive recommendations have not been vetted through the Local DAAC, the Community Health Advisory Committee (CHAC) and were not included on the goals outlined in our 2 year strategic plan. The process your Executive Order created was put into place to more effectively assess and identify local needs. And who best to identify than its own community made up of local stakeholders and concerned citizens impacted by drug abuse.
Examples of initiatives that were never mentioned in our 2 year strategic plan include the Recovery High School ($275,000) and the Lab Analyst ($35,000). The County Executive brought her requests before the Cecil County Council and questions were asked during that meeting as well as at a previous meeting with the County Executive’s Special Assistant to Drug Policy, Kenneth Collins. I requested further information on why the four positions were needed at the Recovery High School. I also requested further information on the lab analyst wanting to verify that this was the best method in funding this position. These answers were never provided.
It should be noted that Mr. Collins was also the former Director for the Alcohol and Drug Recovery Center for the Cecil County Health Department so he should be familiar with the process you put into place but yet he advocated spending money on programs that were never discussed by the local DAAC.
While I was concerned that new initiatives were being suggested without input from the DAAC, it was a relief that the County Executive decided to include funding for Whitsitt as the top priority (Attachment 1) after it was pointed out how critical it was to address the six week waiting list for detox. (Attachment 2) However, the Cecil County Executive’s letter (Attachment 3) and the Cecil County Council’s letter (Attachment 4) failed to point this out and made each of her initiatives a top priority in a different category. While I objected to that misrepresentation to the Cecil County Council and the statement that the Cecil County Council unanimously supported all of the initiatives, the majority on the Council refused to draft a new support letter with the correct information.
Another concern is the manner in which our local DAAC functions. To determine the Council’s role and responsibility, we requested a copy of the by laws but were told by the Chair, John Bennett, that he couldn't find his copy and that Mr. Collins would provide. We’ve been waiting over a month and just received them (Attachment 5). All of the information on how our local DAAC was intended to function we had to locate ourselves and were shocked to find that the designated DAAC for Cecil County was the Community Health Advisory Committee (CHAC) which meets only twice a year. The DAAC is one of five task forces that report to CHAC. The local DAAC has not voted upon or reviewed the 6 month reports or strategic plan which are required to be submitted. We were informed that Ken Collins submitted but it's not clear on where he received the information to compile the reports.
John Bennett has stated that this Council is only advisory and can not vote. After a member requested to serve as co chair, he responded that he wasn’t sure if the rules of procedure allow for a co chair and even so, wouldn't know who the members are that could vote. Mr. Bennett also claimed in a letter to the editor (Attachment 6) that the DAAC reviewed and approved the initiatives by the County Executive. The initiatives were not reviewed because Mr. Collins did not have a copy with him and therefore there was no vote. Even more disturbing is that Mr. Bennett said he only needed the approval of the Cecil County Health Department to submit the editorial. He also took it upon himself as Chair of the DAAC to send emails (Attachment 7) to many organizations stating the DAAC reviewed and approved the County Executive’s initiatives and requested they send in letters of support.
At previous DAAC Meetings, Mr. Bennett had claimed we couldn’t take votes because we were only advisory. But as you can see from his letters to the editor, emails to organizations to encourage support, and attending other meetings representing the local DAAC he isn’t shy about sharing his personal opinion without seeking direction from the rest of the DAAC. When I was seeking support to reopen the treatment beds at Whitsitt, he sent an email stating we shouldn’t pursue because it would hurt the political good will established at the Roundtable (Attachment 8). When a concerned citizen was opening up a transitional house, she encountered zoning issues and requested support and direction from John Bennett. His response to her was full of political innuendo as to how it wasn’t the time to ask for any support in Cecil County (Attachment 9).
After receiving a copy of the DAAC by laws, there is now no doubt the Chairman has been deficient in the manner he has conducted the meetings. (Attachment 5 Bylaws: 2.2, 2.3, 3.1, 4.1, 4.3, 4.4, 4.5, 5.2, 5.3, 5.4, 5.5, 7.1) Other issues include that citizens have been removed from the DAAC meeting notification email list as well as requests for monthly meetings have been ignored. Because our drug abuse problem is at a crisis point, we don’t think quarterly meetings are appropriate.
I have been an active member of our local DAAC for over 2 years. During that period of time I have organized many forums and workshops (Attachment 10) for the public and within Cecil County Public Schools. I’ve encouraged the public to participate, researched how to fight drug abuse and implement more effective treatment, and pursued stronger COMAR regulations with support from the County Commissioners and later the County Council. (Attachment 11) I have also worked on and helped obtain the HIDTA Designation. (Attachment 12) I’m one person but yet could find so many ways to address our number one problem.
In this pursuit, I have requested that DHMH provide the Statestat information on employment, criminal activity, and relapse to identify how successful the private treatment programs are and was told the information would be provided at the next monthly DHMH meeting. These were the monthly meetings you authorized at my request at the Round Table in August. This will probably be the first month to not have a meeting despite my repeated request to have it scheduled. I believe the reason may be that DHMH promised the Statestat data but now I’ve been told by a DHMH official that in 2008 this information was no longer collected due to push back from the private treatment programs.
We have also requested intervention on pill mill doctors from the Health Department as you would assume these doctors are a danger to public health. The Health Department has not intervened and it was only after I requested an update from the Maryland Board of Physicians regarding a local Doctor charged in Delaware and Pennsylvania that the website was updated. After Maryland‘s investigation he was only put on probation for one year. After reading the report from the panel review, I would have thought his license should have been suspended.
I along with three other concerned citizens have been active in on the local DAAC and in effectively addressing drug abuse in the County. By comparison, the County Executive and three members on the Council, who blindly support her initiatives, have not. Mr. Collins has supported Mr. Bennett’s management of the DAAC and has been what can only be called an obstructionist on promoting properly vetted initiatives in Cecil County. Could this be why our drug abuse, overdose, suicide, crime, and child maltreatment rates are so high?
I don't believe it was your intention to have resources allocated without a proper vetting from the local DAAC. When the process is followed as was intended, it promotes and encourages community involvement, the opportunity for ideas to be exchanged freely, and the transparency to ensure special interests or political pay backs have not taken control over our limited resource funding.
The DAAC can flourish at the direction of a strong, enthusiastic Chair which includes the community in meetings and in promoting goals and initiatives. There have already been comments by the Health Department directors that they will defend Chairman Bennett and will never support his removal. That gives me the impression that all of the obstruction we’ve encountered has been by design which leads to another question - Why? Our request - mine and other concerned citizens - is that you intervene and support our efforts to have a local DAAC which operates in the manner intended.
Cecil County Council, District 4
200 Chesapeake Blvd., Suite 2100
Elkton, Maryland 21921