Beth Schmidt has been speaking publicly about opioid awareness since six weeks after her son Sean suffered a fatal fentanyl overdose in 2013, several days after his 23rd birthday. At this time, fentanyl was just starting to be noted in Pennsylvania opioid cases, and Sean’s overdose was the first attributed to 100% fentanyl in Carroll County. In the first quarter of 2016, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene estimates that fentanyl has contributed to 40% of the overdose cases, which are also on the increase.
Many times more potent than heroin or morphine, fentanyl is legally prescribed for pain related to surgery or cancer treatment. However, cheap and illicit versions of the drug have “flooded” the United States in recent years, according to Kathleen Rebbert-Franklin, the Deputy Director of Population-Based Behavioral Health at Behavioral Health Administration in Maryland.
Adamant that there is “no control” in street drugs, Rebbert-Franklin says that there has been a governmental shift from policing this problem to approaching it as a public health crisis. Improving safety for users, mitigating stigma, and raising awareness about legislation and programs are high on her list of priorities. She lauds collaboration between state and local agencies and encourages residents to collaborate with their local health departments to work on these issues.
To Beth Schmidt, her son’s altered brain chemistry was not unlike the cancerous lungs of a smoker, so patients with addiction “shouldn’t deserve any less” care than a person with a more obvious physical illness. Combating stigma and a “not my child” attitude is part of her work, which has included founding the Maryland Heroin Awareness Advocates and running numerous family support meetings. She wants families to recognize the signs of opioid addiction, to know that they’re not alone, and to understand that it’s not their fault.
Footage courtesy of: UMMC Midtown, Beth Schmidt