Earlier this week, CADCA staffers attended a roundtable discussion on the opioid epidemic that has affected Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. The discussion was convened by former Virginia governor and current Democratic Senator, Tim Kaine with support from the local coalition there, the Northern Shenandoah Substance Abuse Coalition in Winchester.
The roundtable was kicked-off by Kevin Sanzenbacher, Chief of Police, City of Winchester. Launched last year, the coalition was formed by community organizations and concerned citizens in the City of Winchester and Counties of Clarke and Frederick in response to the growing epidemic of heroin and opioid abuse in the Northern Shenandoah Valley. The number of deaths resulting from heroin and opioid abuse has risen to an unprecedented and unacceptable level from 2011 to 2014, prompting a committed call for action from a diverse group of community stakeholders. The Chief has been at the helm since the coalition’s inception.
His law enforcement colleagues broadly cited at the meeting that they do not have the funds or infrastructure to keep up with recent drug trends. They are particularly concerned about the next wave and not having the capacity to deal with it. The sheer lack of funding was a key issue that was consistently brought up throughout the roundtable, particularly with respect to resources, personnel and overburdened facilities.
Healthcare providers centered in on the current pain prescribing system that ties the pain management scale and a doctor’s ability to address patient pain to their accreditation. They saw this as one of the leading obstacles and a precursor to the abuse of prescription drugs.
Local community members and advocates stressed the importance of having people with lived experience drive some of the policy and implementation on the ground since they have seen it firsthand.
In response to these concerns, the coalition’s new Executive Director, Lauren Cummings, whose first day with the coalition is after the holidays, will engage all of the area’s sectors to establish and implement a plan for a drug court, explore local treatment options, seek grant funding, and increase public awareness around this issue.
At the roundtable, CADCA touted the Drug Free Community program and more specifically the evidence based practices that have been proven to be effective in local communities when coordinated at the community level. Staff also brought up the need to fund The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), which establishes a comprehensive, coordinated, balanced strategy through enhanced grant programs that would expand prevention and education efforts while also promoting treatment and recovery. The bill would empower communities facing a prescription drug crisis to effectively address these local issues with a new $5 million Community-Based Coalition Enhancement Grant program for current and former Drug-Free Communities grantees.