The number of fatal deaths in Chesterfield County from heroin or opioids jumped from 10 in 2003 to 39 last year, and there are already four this year. In response, the county has created a multi-department steering committee to combat the ongoing heroin/opioid crisis.
“The purpose of our steering committee in Chesterfield County is to come together to coordinate with each other, to collaborate with each other, to look at what our gaps are, what are we missing, what do we need to do in addition,” said Sarah Snead, deputy county administrator for Human Services.
“Under that steering committee, we have three distinct committee areas that we are focusing [on] … much work was already being done but this allows us to focus more as a team, cross-departmental.”
Snead and Debbie Burcham, executive director of Mental Health SupportServices, discussed the committee at a media briefing last Wednesday and are also on the committee. They presented this information at the Board of Supervisors meeting later that day for the FY19 budget.
The committee is requesting more money to fight the crisis and possibly hire an opioid outreach coordinator in the police department, re-entry coordinator in the sheriff’s office, data analyst in information systems technology, and provide continued support for SAFE (Substance Abuse Free Environment).
The goals of the committee are to create and implement a comprehensive communications plan, increase awareness and utilization of safe storage and disposal, decrease access to prescription drugs, increase community awareness of the opioid and heroin epidemic and resources targeted to children and adults, and reduce impact on families by improving coordination of care for substance exposed infants and their families.
So far, the county has received two grants (via the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services) that focus on prevention and treatment. As a result, Deterra pouches have been made available in libraries, public agencies and organizations so citizens can safely dispose of unused medication. The county has also sent out announcements at back-to-school nights that have targeted different age groups. This includes talking about opioid misuse and how to prevent it.
Chesterfield has also joined Hanover, Henrico and Richmond counties in a regional effort to combat the crisis. This provides a place where people who are addicted to drugs can talk to those with the same experiences and find out how to get treatment and where to get help. Their tagline is OpioidSolutions RVA. A regional website will launch soon.
“[The advantage] of working regionally is we don’t all have to imitate one another. There is no playbook for this particular issue,” Burcham said. “As we see things being tried that work, both in our region and nationally, then we can adopt those programs here in Chesterfield, too.”
Despite the many news stories about the heroin/opioid crisis in the news, Snead said people do not always know there is a crisis unless they are dealing it with in their families. She is still amazed at the number of people who do not know what is available to them in the county. Burcham said they want to notify the public about the crisis and that Chesterfield County has been affected by it.
“What’s important for us is for families and children to understand how powerful these medications are, and we have to take it seriously. We have to make sure that parents know to clean out their medicine chests,” Burcham said. “If they have to have these medications in their home [they have to be] locked up and kept track of because they are so addictive, and so that is part of our media campaign is to make sure that people understand how dangerous these drugs are and hopefully stop people from getting addicted in the first place.”
Burcham said the heroin/opioid crisis is a priority of the Board of Supervisors and that the steering committee will be updating them quarterly on their activities.
“We’re very hopeful. It’s taken a lot of time to get us where we are unfortunately and it’s going to take us a long time and a lot of initiatives to get us out of this public health crisis,” Burcham said. “But we’re very hopeful by coordinating all of our efforts, we’ll be able to make a difference in Chesterfield County and in our region.”