Out and About (Sort of): Pervasive Angst of Drugs, Soothing Effect of Music by Howard Freedlander


Within 72 hours, I listened to Sheriff Joe Gamble describe the continuously troubling opiate epidemic in Talbot County and throughout the state and then the sounds of music performed in a lovely local home.

One presentation was jarring, the other soothing and refreshing. One shook your senses, the other appealed to your soul and love of musical excellence.

Though joined by others in the law enforcement and health care fields in promoting public awareness, Sheriff Gamble easily gains an audience’s attention and generates alarm as he tells gruesome stories about young people—situated on every socioeconomic tier—who are battling opiate use and abuse. Death from overdose permeates his tales of woe.

For example, he told about a phone call from a mother asking him to come to her home. And so he did, talking with an alarmed parent as her son tearfully told about his journey into illegal and disabling drugs. Gamble knew and liked this young man, having coached him in county sports. This young man, a lacrosse player who recently graduated from college, explained how he got hooked, thanks to a friend who offered him opiates to relieve the stress of a hangover. His addiction had begun. He was on a downhill spiral–a good kid from a good family, facing the consequences of an insidious addiction.

Sheriff Gamble was in familiar territory. He had heard similar stories and observed the painful, sometimes deadly results, not just for the young person feeling imprisoned by drug abuse but the parents trying desperately to find a solution, to avoid losing a child to an overdose.

When I asked Gamble what resulted from this anguishing conversation, he said that the family sent the young man to an expensive treatment center. Some parents can do that. Others can’t. The community suffers from increased crime brought on by the inevitable search for money to support a horrific habit. The cycle of drug abuse and crime continues unabated.

Though I no longer have children living under roof, I well understand that our community is fighting a difficult scourge facing an increasing number of families who are struggling to keep their children alive and healthy. These families can be neighbors or work associates or even relatives.

I’ve written before in this space about observing the demographic of people attending funerals at a nearby funeral home. Not too long ago I saw a number of young people standing on the steps waiting to enter the funeral home. A nosey neighbor at times, I asked an older man heading to the funeral home if he would tell me the age of the deceased person. The answer was 29. As we walked away, he said, eerily so, “There are no aging heroin addicts.” That remark has stuck with me for months. I learned more about the deceased person when I spoke at a restaurant with friends who had just attended the viewing. I was saddened.

So, what do I do besides write this column? As a grandparent, I can ask my one daughter who has teenaged children whether she’s had difficult conversations with her son and daughter about drugs. I can probe ever so carefully. And then I can pray that my grandchildren will avoid the web of opiate destruction.

As I sat comfortably in friends’ living room, “a musical salon” for two hours, followed by pleasant conversation, I absorbed the soothing sounds of Antonio Vivaldi, the exuberant melodies of Wolfgang Mozart, the beautiful poetry of Franz Schubert, the wonderful American folk song “Shenandoah,” and the feel-good words of Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies” and the Gershwin brothers’ “Our Love Is Here to Stay.”

The musicians were superb. A soprano whose voice was spellbinding, a violinist whose range seemed endless and a pianist who provided the foundation of an unforgettable blending of musical skills and varied offerings—it was incredible. I felt transported to a world without worries, one where you simply had to allow your senses to appreciate first-class talent.

I must add a caveat. I was raised in a musical family, one anchored to an omnipresent piano. I rebelled, however. I was the only member of my immediate family who strayed from the ivories. I lacked the skill and, more importantly, the patience to practice. My foray into the accordion and drums ended in disappointment for my parents and frustration for me.

Along the line, I inadvertently savored lovely music. I could listen. I could applaud excellence. I could not, however, dissect the elements of a performance. That was okay.

I draw no parallel between Sheriff Joe Gamble’s distress alarms and the cultural beauty that marked the end of Saturday afternoon. One strikes the chords of human concern—an SOS signal that none of us should ignore. The other activates your senses to beneficial effect of music written by masters and performed by superior artists.

Opposites mark our lives.

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.

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