Heroin addiction is a growing problem, and Montgomery County is seeing a recent spike overdose deaths.
Thirteen people have died from overdoses in the county since June.
“We are now seeing heroin pop throughout the county, not just in two or three pocketed areas,” Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy said.
Along Route 27 in Damascus -- better known for its rural qualities, landscaped properties and expensive homes – police have made several busts. Dealers use Route 27, which some call a virtual “heroin highway,” instead of the interstate.
"The heroin problem in Montgomery County and, in my experience, Damascus is at epic levels,” said 22-year-old Mary Evans, who attended Damascus High School.
The drug emerged quickly with young people as prescription painkillers got harder to buy, Evans said.
“Really penetrated every clique from the cheerleaders to the football players and then the Goth kids …,” she said.
She spoke out publicly about the problem after her boyfriend, who struggled with an addiction to pills, took his own life. Other friends died from accidental heroin overdoses.
“It’s really sad to see the kids that I know now who are addicted and to think, like, they’re just going to end up dead,” Evans said.
Montgomery County Public Schools spokesman Dana Tofig told News4 there is drug education in schools, and educators look for signs of drug abuse and offer counseling, but he also said usage, for the most part, takes place outside of school.”
“We have students for one-quarter of the day, half the year,” he said. “This must be a collaborative approach that involves the entire community, and that starts with parents.”
Evans said drug is taking place on school grounds, including in the classroom.
“I know for the short time I was there, the culture in the school was that it was acceptable to bring drugs to school,” she said.
She said that when she’s spoken about the problem at school meetings she’s been told the problem starts and ends with parents.
“It’s a community problem, and the schools are an integral part of the community and for them to suggest at any point that it’s not their problem is disturbing,” she said.
There are programs aimed at combating the heroin problem and getting help for addicts, but some say they're not enough.
After News4's story, Principal Jennifer Webster sent this letter to Damascus High School families:
Dear Damascus Community,
News 4 aired a story on Thursday and Friday of this week with the headline, “Recent Spike in Heroin Use in Montgomery County.” The story featured a former Damascus High School student who shared her concerns about the use of heroin in Damascus, particularly at Damascus High School. As your principal, I wanted to share my thoughts with you on this story.
I appreciate the young lady’s efforts to raise awareness about substance abuse. It is so important to make students, parents and educators aware of the signs, dangers and devastation caused by substance abuse. I am, however, concerned about the characterization of DHS as having a rampant drug abuse problem, as I have not seen evidence of this in my work this year. Damascus is a proud, strong community. The students reflect those values. I have not seen evidence of a culture that finds drug use to be acceptable. To the contrary, I have seen students step forward to share concerns about their classmates when they suspect a problem.
Over the last several years, the staff at DHS has taken a number of actions to raise awareness among students, staff and parents about the signs and dangers of drug abuse. These actions have included evening meetings for parents and students and trainings for all staff on the signs and symptoms of drug abuse. When we suspect a student is experimenting with or using drugs, we work alongside families to find resources to help the students. We will continue these efforts of education, prevention and support for our students.
Again, I appreciate the intent of the news story to raise awareness about drug abuse, including heroin use. I think the responsibility for education, prevention and support is the responsibility of the school, alongside members of our community. Our school leadership and PTSA, alongside the Montgomery County Police, had already planned to host an informational meeting for parents and students in January to provide prevention and support resources, as well as an update on the current state of drug use in our community. Please watch for more information about that meeting, and we would love to see you there.
If you have any concerns, please feel free to contact me.