In the News…Frederick News-Post

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Seminar Shines Light on Heroin, Opioid Use and Addiction

This time a year ago, 25-year-old Maya Schwegler was on a downward spiral.

After years of opioid use, the Montgomery County resident and Frederick native was living in and out of different hotels, selling herself for drugs, and had admittedly terrible relationships with her loved ones.

Then one day, after entering into a methadone program to wean herself off of the opioids that she had been addicted to for years, she woke up and decided she was done.

“Methadone has saved my life,” Schwegler told a roomful of attendees at a seminar Saturday at Soldierfit in Frederick. “I had been to multiple rehabs, done multiple programs, nothing ever worked for me. Now I’m going on 10 months clean, all thanks to methadone.”

Today, Schwegler’s life has taken a complete 180. She is visibly healthy, happy and full of energy. She has a good job, a car and a place to live, and is in a great relationship. She has also fully repaired her relationship with her family.

“Besides the material things I’ve gained, it’s the self awareness, the self acceptance,” Schwegler said. “It’s amazing, it truly is.”

Schwegler is one of many people who have struggled with addiction.

At Saturday’s seminar — which Soldierfit Chief Operating Officer Danny Farrar organized — attendees shared stories of struggle, heartbreak and loss stemming from addiction to heroin and other drugs.

Pamela Knight, a 52-year-old Libertytown resident, was one of the panelists for the seminar.

She shared a powerful story about a years-long addiction to pain pills. Knight started with Vicodin in 2011, which a doctor prescribed to help her heal from a back injury. She moved on to doctor shopping for stronger pills as she became more addicted, and finally began buying pills on the street.

She eventually had to enter a treatment center for medical detox after trying to quit on her own just did not work. The recovery effort was long and difficult, but she made it through. And today, she is three years sober.

One aspect of her journey through addiction and recovery that she wants to be sure people are aware of is that addiction is a disease, just like cancer or any other medical issue. She said that is what many people do not understand and something that needs to be communicated when talking about it.

Frederick resident Caressa Flannery also understands the importance of education and communication, which is why she is helping to create a local documentary. “Heroin’s Grip” shares stories from addicts and loved ones in an attempt to “shine a bright light” about the heroin epidemic in Frederick County.

“Heroin is killing people at a rapid rate and we need to all in this community do something about it,” she said during Saturday’s seminar. “Every single one of us, it touches our lives.”

Flannery’s son, who will turn 26 Tuesday, struggled with a heroin addiction but will soon celebrate his three-year anniversary of sobriety.

Not everyone is so lucky to undergo treatment in time, though.

Several other attendees Saturday said they lost loved ones to heroin and opioid use. The victims were young, in their teens and early 20s, and their family members came to share their experiences and encourage people to spread the word about talking to their children and other loved ones about the dangers of these substances.

Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins said during Saturday’s event that heroin use is growing and more and more overdoses and deaths are occurring.

“Right now we are taking five times the amount of heroin off the street than we saw a year ago,” he said.

In 2012, Jenkins said law enforcement handled 21 heroin overdoses, with a total of six fatalities. In 2013, those numbers tripled with 64 overdoses and 19 fatalities.

Over the next three years, it only got worse.

In 2014, Jenkins said authorities responded to 130 overdoses countywide with 28 ending in fatalities, 2015 saw 140 overdoses and 19 deaths, and 2016 had a record 403 overdoses and 51 fatalities. Jenkins said law enforcement has already responded to 30 overdoses in 2017, with two that turned deadly.

He said more recovery resources are available now and law enforcement officials are able to save more people who overdose. However, he said many users are playing a game of “Russian Roulette,” when they use now because they always expect someone will save them. That is not always the case, though.

“The problem with it is people say they’ll go ahead and shoot up and think someone will save them,” he said,

To attack the problem once and for all, Jenkins said more attention needs to be paid to treatment efforts, which is the focus of his office.

“It’s a commitment of the sheriff’s office,” he said. “I’m focused on it, I’m committed to it, and somehow we’re going to get a handle on it. It’s going to have to run its course. We’re not going to arrest our way out of it.”

Follow Mallory Panuska on Twitter: @MalloryPanuska.