ST. MARY’S COUNTY, Md. –  The COVID-19 pandemic may be dominating the news, but the heroin epidemic is still a very real threat to Southern Maryland.

St. Mary’s County Sheriff Tim Cameron said, “Despite COVID being prominent on our minds, the scourge of heroin is very real and just as bad as it was last year. We’ve already surpassed last year’s numbers for overdoses both fatal and non-fatal.”

In 2019, there were 2,090 opioid-related fatalities in Maryland, down slightly from 2018. In the first 6 months of 2020, the state recorded 1,326 fatalities from drug intoxication, roughly a 9% increase from the previous year.

Cameron, who has been with the Sheriff’s Office for 40 years, and Sheriff for 14, said keeping the peace during a pandemic has been challenging. “There’s no way to forecast that you’re going to be in the midst of pandemic. It’s all new ground. It stretches your resources. Not just in law enforcement but in all of government.”

The sheriff said the department is a lean entity without a surplus amount of employees. “Problem is, you have a set number of officers and they are equally affected by COVID.”

No Book On Pandemic Policing

During the pandemic, his officers not only have their regular duties, but even more is required. “It’s pretty vexing when you consider both at the same time. With COVID we still have to respond to 911 calls. We still conduct investigations.” Officers are also expected to assist with assuring compliance with COVID regulations and educating the public about the virus. “We’re keenly aware of the angst that exists about the enforcement of executive orders.”

He said his office had made adjustments. “We’ve amended some of the things we do. Where we can write a criminal citation, we do. It helps keep people out of the detention center.”

Cameron said his department does its best to stay agile and adjust to the changing circumstances. “There’s no book on how to police during a pandemic.”