August 8, 2017
Taking a full-thronged approach to combat drugs and addiction was a central theme at a roundtable discussion held at the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office Tuesday focusing on the statewide opioid crisis.
Representatives from a multitude of agencies and those whose lives are directly impacted by the crisis joined Congresswoman Barbara Comstock (R-Va.-10th) and Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman (R) to share best practices and put forward new ideas and possible solutions.
Those gathered were part of Loudoun County’s Heroin Operations Team (HOT) formed in 2015 to address the growing opioid epidemic with what Chapman described as an all angles government approach with law enforcement, education, public outreach and treatment.
Comstock said one of the purposes of the event was to see how resources are working on state, local and federal level.
She also spoke about bipartisan support for legislation to help addicts, like the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, passed by a bipartisan vote in May 2016.
Joining the discussion was Lawrence “Chip” Muir, general counsel and acting chief of staff at the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
“In 2015, 33,000 people in the U.S. died from drug overdose, over 800 were in Virginia,” Muir said.
He added he was “looking forward to taking back recommendations and find out what gaps we need to fill.”
Muir said President Donald Trump is committed to the fight against opioids and spoke about a commission appointed by the president to combat opioid addiction.
In Loudoun County, sheriff’s deputies are equipped to carry the heroin antidote Naloxone.
Ginny Lovett of the Chris Atwood Foundation, a nonprofit organization set up to address the opioid crisis and stigma surrounding it, warned how addicts can easily fall through the cracks and not be offered help or the right resources.
Lovett’s brother, Chris Atwood, died after a six-year battle with drugs. The month before his death he was taken to the hospital where his life was saved with Naloxone.
“He was released from hospital with no resources, no follow-up and was basically told don’t do that again,” Lovett said. “If they had given him Naloxone to take home with him, then he would have had that.”
Lovett was the one who found her brother unconscious.
She went on to talk about how expensive the nasal spray version of Naloxone is and how the price has risen in recent years.
Former addict Nick Yacoub, who’s been in recovery for the last nine years, talked about how he is getting the message out to young people that recovery is possible.
“We need to address the stigma,” Yacoub said. “We need to show people recovery is possible and they can learn to live without the use of drugs.”
Other speakers included Major Richard Fiano, who oversees the Criminal Investigations Unit at the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office. Fiano spoke of seeing a lot of prescription script fraud and warned many addicts were previously addicted to pain killers before becoming hooked on heroin.
“Some parents don’t seem to see the urgency. They don’t see the addiction process,” Fiano said.
Since March, at Inova Loudoun and other Inova hospitals in the region, the emergency department has dramatically reduced the number of opioids they prescribe. Instead they are offering patients experiencing pain non-narcotic options like Toradol.
Dr. Sameer Mehta from Inova Health spoke about the success of offering alternatives.
“There has been an 83 percent drop in Dilaudid use,” Mehta said, referring to a common opioid.
Philip Erickson, substance abuse program manager for Loudoun County Department of Mental Health, said community partnerships are key in the fight against drugs and addiction. Although he was optimistic, he acknowledged gaps in Loudoun County.
“We don’t have a residential detox program,” he said. Instead the county is dependent on programs further afield like in Alexandria.
Leesburg Chief of Police Greg Brown said there had been a small drop in the number of fatal overdoses so far this year, referring only to cases worked by Leesburg police. There have been eight overdose-related deaths in the last six months. But Brown added there are three more cases sitting in toxicology labs.
Speaking after the formal event, Comstock told the Times-Mirror it was important to work toward prevention and diversion out of the jail system so more hospital beds aren’t needed.
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