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The town of Damascus in Montgomery County has a drug problem, says a group of residents there. And added to that substance abuse, they say, is another deep-rooted issue preventing a solution: denial.
Jason Bourdeaux is a 2000 graduate of Damascus High School, and what has happened at the school since he left makes him angry.
"Since then, I've known 26 people who have died from heroin and opiate addiction. My family was personally affected by it as well," Bourdeaux says. "So I got mad. And I decided to put on a group because everybody in Damascus knows where the drugs are and how easy they are to get. But nobody wants to talk about it."
That group is Project Awareness, and its goal is just that: make people aware of the rising use of drugs in the small town.
"It's a one cow town. There's not a lot to do," Bourdeaux says. "We're directly in between D.C. and Baltimore."
He believes there's plenty of denial of the problem at all levels, but during a meeting at the Damascus High School last night, he singled out the Montgomery County school system. Montgomery County Board of Education member Michael Durso was in attendance at the meeting, and said he would have liked to dispute the denial claim, but couldn't do it.
"I think the schools have not been as straight-forward and active with this issue as we could be," Durso said. "I think if we knew what to do, we wouldn't have kept it secret all these years."
What to do is the big question. A group of residents made sure the county council knew about the problem by packing public budget hearings last month. They argued for more money for long-term drug treatment programs, and were so persuasive that two council committees held a joint hearing last week to discuss the matter.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been cut from drug treatment programs during the past four years in the county, according to Eric Sterling, who works with the county's Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Advisory Council.
"If you are cutting recreation programs, if there's unemployment, if young people think they don't have a job for them or can't afford to go to college," Sterling says. "Drug addiction arises out of despair and hopelessness."
Last night's meeting was the second this week at Damascus High School that focused on the rising use of heroin and opiates.