Last year, 108 Montgomery County residents died from an opioid drug overdose.
Families mourned loved ones and urged increased awareness about substance use disorder at an International Overdose Awareness Day Event and candlelight vigil Thursday evening in Rockville.
Wendy and Henry Winter lost their son, Seth, on April 29, 2020 after an accidental fentanyl overdose. As a teenager, Seth suffered from mental health issues like depression and anxiety. He was two months away from turning 21 years old. In his memory, the Winters created the Seth J. Winter Memorial Foundation to provide scholarships for young adults who are in recovery from substance use disorders.
Elena Suarez lost her daughter, Colette, exactly one year ago on Aug. 26, 2020. She was a Churchill High School graduate and died of an accidental fentanyl-laced overdose. She was introduced to drugs after suffering a trauma in 2017 that left her mentally vulnerable. She was 19 years old.
More than 60% of overdose deaths in the county have been fentanyl-related since 2016, according to the county. Suarez said there is a horrible stigma around addiction-related deaths.
“Nobody wants to suffer from the disease of addiction. It’s not an issue of character, it’s a disease that, when it takes over, it’s very, very hard to recover from,” she said.
Opioid overdose deaths in Montgomery County increased 29% in 2020 compared to 2019. Health and Human Services Director Dr. Raymond Crowel said the connection between mental health and substance use disorder has become even clearer since the COVID-19 pandemic began. But, Crowel said the county adapted in the face of the pandemic and made efforts to meet resident needs. For example, the Opioid Intervention Team provides training for and free kits of Narcan, which is an emergency medicine to treat an opioid overdose.
In June, the county officially opened the Avery Road Treatment Center in Rockville for inpatient and outpatient substance use disorder treatment.
S.O.U.L. (Surviving Our Ultimate Loss) partnered with Montgomery County to host the event.