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.