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September 09, 2020

Trone holds roundtable talks on addiction

Credit: Cumberland Times-News, Lindsay Renner-Wood

CUMBERLAND — After stopping first in Frederick and Hagerstown, U.S. Rep. David Trone’s (D) day of roundtable talks on addiction in the region he serves ended in Cumberland Tuesday evening at Fort Recovery on Centre Street.

The day’s tour was reportedly the first event of those the Congressman, who is up for re-election in November, will hold throughout September, which is National Recovery Month. 

Addiction, Trone said at the top of his remarks, is often criminalized when it should be treated as a health problem. Over the course of about an hour, Trone spoke to the crowd — comprised of some locals in recovery and folks who work in relevant fields — about his own personal dealings with addiction, ranging from watching his father’s struggle to his nephew’s death. Through both that experience and his time in office, Trone said he’s seen exactly how wide-ranging the problem of substance abuse is.

“Addiction takes no prisoners,” he said. “It’s not asking your party.”

AHEC associate director Melissa Clark thanked Trone both for his time and for the recent $1 million grant the organization received to implement some new programs focused on curbing the stigma around addiction. The last few months, Clark noted, have been especially difficult for Allegany County residents, and the first-quarter numbers for the county are alarming in what they imply could be coming in the second, when the worst of the pandemic-related shutdowns were in effect.

Compared to 2019, as a region, Western Maryland saw a 42.5% increase in opioid-related fatalities in the first quarter of 2020, per the state Opioid Operational Command Center. Allegany County saw an 85.7% increase, jumping from seven deaths in the first quarter of 2019 to 13 in 2020’s.

“The expectation is it’s going to be horrible for Allegany County,” Clark said of the anticipated second-quarter statistics. “It’s affecting us in Allegany County like no other.”

During the wide-ranging discussion, the subject of community and its importance to a successful recovery came up time and time again.

The shutdowns had a harsh effect on some of the folks who frequent Fort Recovery, some of the board members said. Treasurer John Ludeman said that 15 groups meet on their premises.

“Initially, Zoom worked for some people but not a lot of the older alcoholics,” Ludeman said of virtual meetings. “They just didn’t have the hardware.”

To his knowledge, Ludeman said one attendee died from his alcoholism after relapsing some time in the last few months, and still “others went back out simply because they didn’t have access to that human interaction.”

They’ve been thoroughly cleaning the space at Fort Recovery, Ludeman said, making social distancing a priority. Some folks have returned to meetings now that they can be held in-person, he said, but the folks who are concerned about the virus still remain home for the most part.

“I’m hopeful we’ll be back to normal in six months to a year maybe, and until then we’ll get along as best we can,” Ludeman said.

Board member Jade Kenney also noted that with less people dropping by, they’ve had a hard time raising the funds they need just to maintain operations. Fort Recovery Cumberland doesn’t have any employees, Kenney said, only volunteers, and so weren’t eligible for CARES Act funding.

“Recovery is supposed to be fun, it’s not supposed to suck,” she said, stressing the importance of connection. “Because we lack the funds to have any activities, that hurts us. … We struggle right now to keep our doors open because we relied on people donating and paying their dues. To be able to (host) activities, to have a good time, we live in a beautiful area with so much around that we really could.”

Keeping busy and maintaining that connection is critical, Trone agreed.

“Busy is a really good thing,” he said.