Reporting Jessica Kartalija
ELKTON, Md. (WJZ)– The number one drug Marylanders abuse isn’t crack, cocaine or heroin. It’s prescription pain killers. One small Maryland town is at the center of this alarming epidemic.
Jessica Kartalija talks with a former addict who almost lost her child so she could get high.
Elkton, Maryland. Population 15,000. It’s a little town with a big problem: a hotbed for prescription drug abuse.
“It’s so bad here, like, it’s very, very bad,” said Stephanie Berry, former addict.
Prescription painkillers once ruled her life. Now, 22-year-old Berry is clean and raising her young son in the Cecil County town of Elkton, right off I-95.
She realized she hit rock bottom when she lost everything.
“My son was with my mother. I lost my home, my car. I had no job. I had nothing,” Berry said.
Berry was part of an alarming trend. Over the past decade, the number of people living in Cecil County admitted to treatment centers for prescription drug abuse skyrocketed almost 800 percent. That’s nearly double the percentage statewide.
“Everything is irrelevant. Nothing else matters,” Berry said.
Reporter: “So your son didn’t matter?”
Berry: “At a point, no he didn’t. That killed me. I lived with that guilt for a long time. I still do, because I look, and I’m like, that’s my baby and I gave him up for a high.”
Berry’s story echoes throughout Maryland. Admissions to treatment centers are up in Baltimore County by more than 270 percent, Harford County is up almost 730 percent and Carroll County is up more than 600 percent. Clearly, there’s an explosion in prescription drug use.
“They are more abused than heroin, ecstasy, LSD, marijuana combined. That’s huge!” said Dr. Frank Falco, a pain management doctor in Elkton.
With easy access to I-95 and multiple prescriptions, addicts can quickly travel to pharmacies out of the area in Baltimore, Philadelphia and Wilmington, Del. without being caught. Users say Elkton is a convenient home base.
Some say the problem has gotten so bad that you can literally walk down the street in Elkton and get your hands on any prescription drug you want.
“It’ll take me 20 minutes time to have at least one to get started,” Berry explained. “It’s very easy.”
Maryland is taking aim at prescription drug abuse with a new computerized system to track who’s writing painkiller prescriptions and who’s filling them.
“I think you need a more vigilant program in every physician’s office and hospital and emergency room to help to thwart this abuse,” Falco said.
Berry says drugs ruined her life.
“I ain’t had much of a life, and what I have had, it ruined it,” she said.
Maryland’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program is scheduled to start next July with a focus on helping addicts get treatment rather than reporting them to police.