NORTH BETHESDA — H. David Meyers, a Rockville-based businessman turned on the local news one day and saw his secretary Carin Miller.
Miller, founder of the Maryland Heroin Awareness Advocates, was on television raising awareness for a cause that is personal to her – the opioid epidemic. While Meyers knew his secretary was an advocate, it was not until he saw her on television that he came up with an idea – to host a benefit concert for her organization.
On Tuesday, Meyer who is a classically-trained oboist along with 67 other musicians played a benefit concert at Strathmore Music Center to raise awareness for opioid and heroin addiction – something state, local and federal officials have called an epidemic. All proceeds from the concert will go to MHAA, which helps those addicted to opioids and heroin to seek treatment and promote awareness for the issue to combat the stigma of drug abuse.
“We have several fundraisers throughout the year, this is a grand event that I never would have thought would happen, but Mr. H. David Meyers was kind enough to host this beautiful concert for us,” Miller said.
The concert featured an arrangement of 68 orchestral players who all volunteered to play for the concert with music ranging from Mozart to George Gershwin and the debut of an oboe concerto composed for the event, which Meyers played himself.
In addition to taking down the stigma centered around opioid and heroin abuse and raising money to support addicts seeking treatment, Miller said she also wanted to spread information on training with Narcan, a lifesaving antidote used for those who overdose on opioids, as well as Maryland’s Good Samaritan Law, which shields people from prosecution if they are experiencing an overdose.
Before the concert began, Meyers spoke, saying opioid addiction has touched most people in some way. Meyers said he knew of three people who died from their addiction to drugs, and told the audience that he hoped Tuesday night’s concert would help start a nationwide trend for symphonies to at least one concert a year to spread awareness about opioid and heroin addiction.
While Meyers does not expect orchestras to pull off an event like the one Tuesday night where all the proceeds went to charity, Meyers said he expects this concert to become an annual tradition.
“The most important thing is that we are kind of raising the bar for awareness, and this is kind of a kickoff concert,” Meyers said. “Our group is going to send out a notice to every major symphony in the country.”
For Meyers and many of the musicians the concert was somewhat of a spontaneous event, so much so that the concerto Meyers played came from an impromptu meeting Meyers had with composer Gary Haberman. Haberman, from New Jersey, first met Meyers a few months ago at a cigar shop while he was visiting his daughter in Potomac. The two hit it off when Meyers mentioned he was an oboe player and Haberman mentioned he was a composer.
Meyers then asked him to compose a piece for the charity concert, which Haberman completed in three weeks.
“It was by chance that we met that afternoon,” Haberman said, who like many of those at the concert had a relative that was addicted to opioids.
Like many in the audience Tuesday night, addiction was a personal issue. While Meyers spoke that many either “knew someone or knew someone who knew someone” that was addicted to opioids, for many at the concert that “someone” was a family member or a close friend.
Miller said she first got involved in drug awareness after both her husband Greg and son Lucas, became addicted to opioids and heroin. Greg Miller originally became addicted to painkillers after a drunken driver injured him in an automobile accident. Doctors then prescribed him painkillers to deal with his injuries, which eventually lead to an addiction.
“I’m trying to help other families not go through what my family went through,” Miller said.
Like Miller, Debbie Flinger also got involved when two of her sons became addicted to opioids and heroin. Flinger said her youngest son first became addicted after he hurt himself working out, and first turned to opioids to cope with the pain, eventually turning to heroin until he was incarcerated.
Flinger said that among the biggest challenges to overcome are the stereotypes people normally associate with addicts – shady back-alley users – rather than normal everyday people.
“The biggest thing is the stigma associated with it,” Flinger said.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics 63,500 people died from drug overdoses in 2016, the majority from opioids. According to the study, opioid overdose deaths increased by 88 percent from 2013 to 2016 becoming a mass crisis that has killed more than both gun murders and suicides combined in America.
In January, County Executive Ike Leggett announced the County had filed suit against opioid manufactures and distributors, claiming strain the epidemic has placed on County’s police and medical services is too much to keep up with as companies continue to mislead about the safety of their drugs.