Written by John Adam of the Progress Index
The city of Colonial Heights has continued to take a lead role in the past several months in educating community members about the ongoing heroin and opioid epidemic that has swept through the region, as well as the country.
“I’m really proud of the efforts that we’re putting forth to make our community aware of the problem, and hopefully we can help be a part of the solution,” said Diane Yates, who helped organize both summits.
In Virginia, opioid related deaths have risen dramatically in recent years, with over 1,000 residents overdosing in 2016. This is over double the number of residents that overdosed in 2010. Governor Terry McAuliffe declared a public health emergency back in November due to the growing crisis, and officials nationwide are trying to find solutions to the growing problem that killed more Americans last year than gun violence or car crashes.
Over the past six months, Colonial Heights has taken a lead in stepping up to combat the epidemic. By setting up the heroin summit meetings, the city is taking steps to make sure citizens are aware of just how extensive the problem has gotten.
“I think the key thing is communication, communication, communication,” said Colonial Heights Mayor Gregory Kochuba. “This certainly brings light that there is a serious problem, and that there are agencies and individuals out there that can help.”
The city has hosted two summits so far, one back in November and the follow-up taking place this past week. The idea to begin to educate citizens on heroin and opioids was put forth by Colonial Heights Middle School Teacher Rick Ridpath, who penned a letter last summer to various City Council members, asking for the city to take part.
At both summits, special panels were set up to answer questions from community members, as well as give their insight as to how to best tackle the problem. Colonial Heights brought in several officials from Chesterfield County law enforcement, including Sheriff Karl Leonard and Dr. Mantovanni Gay. Leonard and Gay were both instrumental in starting the Heroin Addiction Recovery Program (HARP) to the Chesterfield County Jail. Leonard started the program after the county had documented its tenth overdose of the year in March of 2016, which was half of what they saw for all of 2015. The program takes a new approach to treating addiction, using counselors and doctors to help addicts in the program. Leonard has opened the program to incarcerated individuals from Colonial Heights and Petersburg. During both summits, Leonard informed Colonial Heights citizens how HARP is changing the way doctors and law enforcement look at the opioid addiction problem.
Leonard also brought in several locals who had participated in HARP to give testimonials about the approach.
In addition to Leonard, both summits gave community members advice as how to recognize the signs of addiction and drug use, particularly when it comes to children and parents. Francene Katzen, a mother of an addict, encouraged parents to make maintain a careful watch over their children during Act two last week.
“If your child has any difference in behavior, grades, social life, etc., make sure you know what’s going on with them,” she said.