EASTON — Talbot Goes Purple marked its fourth year on Sept. 1 with Sheriff Joe Gamble speaking from a livestream on Zoom, but his message remained the same: Talbot County will continue the fight against drug abuse.
“I did an interview about a week ago and a gentleman asked me why we need to continue this during a pandemic,” he said. “I think now, more than ever, we need this. And if we can’t get it done here in Talbot County, then nobody can get it done.”
The sheriff disappeared from the video. In popped Lucie Hughes from Tidewater Rotary, who agreed with Gamble. Talbot Goes Purple shone in white letters on a purple background behind her.
“So, how are we going to do it this year?’ Hughes asked. “It’s going to look a little different, but we still have a month of messaging planned. We’re counting on each of you to help us get the message out this year.”
She explained each of the initiatives the organization has this year, from 30 billboards scattered across the county to the purple Preston Automotive trucks pulling a Talbot Goes Purple trailer.
When Hughes finished, Kelly Simonsen from Easton Utilities jumped in. She announced the countdown for the traditional powering of purple lights in downtown Easton.
A video rolled onto the screen, gradually showing Easton lighting up in a purple crescendo with 14,000 purple lights and 75 purple spotlights bursting into life.
With that, Talbot Goes Purple officially began.
The annual kickoff marks the beginning of the county’s monthlong endeavor to “Go Purple” as a sign of standing up against drug abuse. The initiative educates the community about a range of drug abuse, including alcohol, marijuana and even e-cigarettes. But it focuses on the epidemic of opioids ravaging Talbot County, with attention on prevention and lifesaving guides.
Talbot Goes Purple will be COVID-friendly this year — with all activities available remotely — and the events begin immediately. For the duration of September, listeners can tune in to 96.7 WCEI and 94.3 WINX-FM for educational radio messages that play throughout the day. Resources and information on opioids and drug abuse are available online at the TGP website. Special articles are appearing daily in The Star Democrat, and educational messages are being shared through the newspaper’s social media as well.
County students can submit educational videos about drug abuse to a contest, with the winner earning a $500 cash prize and a published video on local television. Questions about the student video contest should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
And on Sept. 8, Talbot Goes Purple will livestream its first event, the “American Opioid Crisis: Talbot Goes Purple,” by Ferrari Films, according to its Facebook calendar. Another film, “The First Day,” will air on Sept. 22.
TGP typically begins with a big kickoff before transitioning to guest speakers at schools and intimate community events throughout September. But Gamble is optimistic he can reach an audience this year because limitations from COVID-19 actually present new opportunities.
“No longer is there this rush life we had, where families barely had time to even share a meal,” he said. “Because parents now have more time with their kids, there’s more opportunity to talk to their kids.”
The volunteers are just as passionate this year. Volunteer Brody McDaniel, a 7th-grader from St. Michaels Middle High, will air his personalized radio message on Sept. 9.
“Substance abuse affects all the people around the (abuser) — the community and their loved ones,” he said. “It’s good for youth to hear from someone their own age and stop it before it happens. That is the point of education.”
That’s exactly what Jon Cook will be doing. The Centreville resident said his whole house will glow purple throughout September. Cook will also contribute to purple movements on Facebook, liking and sharing educational messages to spread the positive message.
“It’s important to do whatever we can to increase awareness,” said Cook, who lost three friends to substance abuse. “The biggest challenge is awareness — it’s a tough thing to get people to talk about since we have a hard time as a society thinking about substance abuse as a disease — but these programs reduce the stigma associated with that.”
The opioid crisis has gotten worse since the coronavirus pandemic was declared and initially shut down traditional assistance programs, such as Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Cases have skyrocketed since a low before the pandemic in February, Gamble said.
Roughly 561 opioid-related fatalities have been recorded in the state so far this year, compared to 547 at the same time last year, according to the Maryland Department of Behavioral health.
Opioids are so dangerous because people often get hooked on the high from prescription painkillers, such as Oxycontin. When cut off from the prescription, many turn to heroin, the cheaper but more dangerous alternative.
To that end, prevention is key so residents do not go down that path in the first place, Gamble said. Every prevention saves lives and $16 in “downstream consequences,” whether that’s from rehab or the hospital, he added.
Since Tidewater Rotary and Talbot County Sheriff’s Office created Talbot Goes Purple in 2016, the initiative has spread to 13 counties in Maryland. And Gamble recently got calls from county officials in West Virginia and Colorado to bring the movement there.
TGP is modeled after Project Purple, a similar initiative from former NBA star Chris Herren’s nonprofit foundation, The Herren Project. Herren adopted the purple color after speaking to a high school audience in 2011 about his recovery from drug abuse. Two female students wore purple to stand out as some of the few sober students at the school.
The county has a long way to go in ending drug abuse, but Talbot Goes Purple is chopping away at the problem by getting parents and youth educated.
“Six years ago, when I ran for sheriff, no one understood the connection between opioids and heroin,” Gamble said. “You teach your kids about wearing seat belts — which was the leading cause of death for kids when I was young — but the leading cause of death for your kids, now, are them experimenting with pain pills. Education is the way out for people who have not started this path.”
When Chris Herren visited Talbot County in 2017 and spoke about his journey with substance use disorder, he urged parents not to permit drinking.
A former professional basketball player who lost everything due to his drug dependency, Herren spoke to a crowd of about 1,000 people in the first year of Talbot Goes Purple. He shared his experience with alcohol, other drugs and subsequent recovery. Part of his compelling talk included the message that underage drinking is not a rite of passage.
For Herren, who ultimately got sober in 2008 after becoming dependent upon — and overdosing on — heroin, it all started with alcohol.
“Stop telling your kids that high school is the best years of their lives,” Herren said. “Don’t let your kids drink in basements with their friends. Don’t provide those safe spaces to drink.”
Despite news of the opioid crisis dominating headlines, alcohol remains one of the most abused substances by teens. Here in Talbot County, the latest youth risk behavior survey indicated that more than half of all public high school students have tried alcohol at least once. More than 14 percent drank before the age of 13.
Research shows that young people who start drinking before the age of 13 are five times more likely to have alcohol-related problems later in life. And almost everyone who becomes dependent upon alcohol or other drugs started before the age of 20, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
A teen brain is still developing until the early- to mid-twenties and is hard-wired to take risks, leaving it particularly vulnerable to substance abuse. And using alcohol, or other drugs, during this time can cause permanent brain changes. Other problems associated with underage drinking include alcohol-related injuries, social consequences, difficulties in school, high-risk behaviors and more.
Parents and caregivers can help prevent underage drinking in several ways, including learning about risk factors; setting a good role model; establishing clear rules and staying involved. Find more information at talbotgoespurple.org.
Talbot Goes Purple is an educational and awareness prevention program that empowers our youth and our community to “Go Purple” as a sign of taking a stand against substance abuse. The purpose of the program is to promote the “new conversation” — one that includes prescription drugs, alcohol, marijuana and e-cigarettes. TGP focuses on educating students about the dangers of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs, and works toward preventing kids from beginning to use these substances in the first place.
An initiative from the Talbot County Sheriff’s Office and Tidewater Rotary, in partnership with Talbot County Public Schools, Saints Peter and Paul School and the Mid-Shore Community Foundation, Talbot Goes Purple empowers the youth and the community to “Go Purple” as a sign of taking a stand against substance abuse.
More information about Talbot Goes Purple is available at www.talbotgoespurple.org. Find the organization on Facebook @TalbotGoesPurple or contact it at email@example.com.
Talbot Goes Purple is a component fund of the Mid-Shore Community Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, donations to which are tax deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law.
ANNAPOLIS — Several weeks after the Maryland Board of Public Works voted in favor of state police funding cuts that put the Trooper 6 Medevac station in Easton at risk of closure, all three board members voiced opposition to the change and said they will seek a vote reversal.
The board members’ change of heart on the $1.3 million cut the trio approved in July to fund pandemic-fueled budget shortfalls came in response to a public outcry from Eastern Shore residents and lawmakers — many of whom said the helicopter station’s closure would slash the rural region’s lifeline for those in need of emergency medical care.
Comptroller Peter Franchot, who is a board member alongside Gov. Larry Hogan and Treasurer Nancy Kopp, initiated the call to undo the board’s closure threat to the helicopter section. Franchot said during a Wednesday, Sept. 2, meeting that people on the Shore are “very, very concerned” about losing the base.
Trooper 6, which primarily serves Queen Anne’s, Caroline, Talbot and Dorchester counties, is one of two state police helicopter sections on the Shore, and one of seven in all of Maryland. The Shore's second base is in Salisbury.
The central Easton location allows rescue crews to transport patients by helicopter to Baltimore's Shock Trauma Center in 20 minutes and Penninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury in 15 minutes, according to the Maryland State Police website.
Franchot’s comments on the helicopter base toward the end of Wednesday’s meeting aligned with concerns state legislators laid out in a letter opposing the change to Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Secretary David Brinkley, who recommended the closure, and Maryland State Police Superintendent Jerry Jones.
“Obviously losing a (Medevac) aviation unit and potentially having to depend on units from other parts of the state would not only be detrimental but life threatening to the citizens on the Eastern Shore,” the lawmakers wrote. “Quite simply, the Eastern Shore is not the area to scale back healthcare services for the purpose of statewide budget cuts.”
The comptroller suggested the board seek an official legal opinion from Attorney General Brian Frosh on whether and how the board can void a funding cut that was approved but has not yet taken place.
Officials already were holding off action on the base closure in anticipation of results from an independent helicopter basing study that was initiated in May. Preliminary findings from the study, according to MSP spokesman Greg Shipley, are expected toward the end of this summer.
Hogan nodded to the study during Wednesday’s meeting, saying it was ongoing and he hadn’t yet heard any information on it. Despite not having seen the study’s report, the governor said he was in “100% agreement” with Franchot’s call to reconsider the cut.
“We should figure out a way to try to look at this issue again. I’m also not really in favor of (the cut),” Hogan said, adding that “no final decisions have been made on anything” and the board would “try to figure out a way to resolve that whole issue.”
Kopp echoed Franchot’s and Hogan’s sentiments, asserting during the discussion on the issue, “Obviously, I agree with not making that cut.”
All three members of the board were in agreement that no further action would be taken on the funding cut and consequential Trooper 6 shuttering until more information is gathered and vetted.