During a Montgomery County budget hearing, councilmembers learned that the recreational use of heroin and opiates is growing in county, particularly among teenagers.
Several parents and counselors spoke about the rising use of the drugs during public hearings earlier this month, in hopes of getting the council to spend more money on treatment facilities. They were also looking to raise awareness of the problem. During the first council hearing on the matter, police noted that acknowledging the problem even existed was an issue.
"What we're hearing on the initial contact with parents is, 'Wow! We had no idea,'" says Commander Luther Reynolds. He added in some cases, teens plan what's known as "pharm parties" around the drugs.
"They'll actually have a bowl of pharmaceuticals at a party where the kids will take a handful of pills and take them, and not even know what they're taking," says Reynolds.
Two separate symposiums will take place next week at Damascus High School focusing on drug use. The school serves an area that has seen an increase in heroin and opiate sales and usage. Authorities say the popularity of prescription painkillers has also risen.
"They trigger the same parts of the brain," says Captain Mitch Cunningham, who heads the special investigations division for the county police. "In some cases, because the opiates and the pills have become more difficult to obtain, some folks have therefore gone to heroin."
Since teens are normally inseparable from their cell phones, Cunningham says that's where they will start fighting the problem. The county plans to use a service called Text-a-Tip.
"It's going to allow students to anonymously text tips to us about what is going on in schools," says Cunningham. "And the schools are partnering with us, and will help us sell that."
No budget decisions have been made yet and won't for another month. Over the past four years, according to the county's Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Advisory Council, funding for substance abuse treatment has dropped 2.5 percent.
As part of National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, residents with unused prescription drugs are being urged to turn them in to the police. Six police district stations, as well as at the Montgomery County police headquarters in Rockville will accept the drugs.