My plan was to write (again) about a wonderful trip to a guest ranch in Wickenburg, AZ, northwest of Phoenix. Then life and poor health intervened.
From Friday, March 31 through Monday, April 3, 2017, either my wife or I was bedridden with the flu. When we returned home a week ago, we found ourselves marooned in our home trying to escape a case of constant sluggishness.
This column may reflect more fogginess than usual. At least that’s my excuse, and I’m coughingly standing behind it. This flu bug is annoyingly persistent, resistant to constant bed rest and minimum exertion.
So, instead of writing about the beauty of the Sonoran Desert and its marked contrast to the low-lying Eastern Shore of Maryland and the pleasant, humidity-less temperatures, I’m delving into self-absorption. Poor health changes your perspective. Not for the better.
My thoughts range back a few weeks ago to a Friday evening when walking to town for dinner. My eye trained on a line of people waiting to enter a funeral home. Most of the folks standing on the sidewalk seemed young to me. Ominously curious, I asked a middle-aged man joining the funeral group about the deceased, specifically his age. This gentleman, instinctively understanding why I was a nosey enough to ask this question, said the deceased was 29. I then asked the cause of death. He said it was a drug overdose.
As the man walked away, he said, “There are no old heroin addicts.” Poignant remark.
Just the night before this encounter, I had attended a talk by Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, a good man and longtime friend, addressing measures that Gov. Larry Hogan and the state legislature were debating concerning ways to control the opiate epidemic afflicting our county, state and country. In 2016, the state experienced nearly 1,000 deaths from overdose.
Lt. Gov. Rutherford, who headed a commission to study the opiate crisis, said he was concentrating significant attention on increasing awareness on the deadly impact of drug addiction. He understood that the battle would be a hard-fought one, with no guarantee of immediate success.
As readers may recall, some months ago I observed a particularly large crowd attending another funeral. The streets seemed filled with more cars than usual. A few weeks after the funeral, I asked a funeral home employee about the deceased. Was it an older, prominent member of the community? No was the answer. It was a 23-year-old man killed by a heroin overdose.
I promise you I am not simply a nosey, ghoulish neighbor who should have better things to do in his retirement than monitor attendance at the local funeral home. I am seriously concerned. We are losing young people who cannot overcome their addiction to dangerous, life-shortening drugs. Their families and friends feel the loss. As does the community.
Yesterday, the Maryland General Assembly adjourned after its 90-day session. I hope that the executive and legislative branches coalesced to produce legislation providing extensive, science-based treatment. From 2010 to 2015, fatal drug and alcohol-related overdoses experienced a 60 percent rise, while heroin deaths increased by 186 percent in Maryland.
My foggy flu brain is losing its juice (I couldn’t come up with a better word). I need to conclude this column. Unfortunately, the heroin epidemic is growing stronger and more insidious.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.