Opioid symposium held at Workforce Center

Published 9:43 pm Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Paul D. Camp Community College Associate Degree in Nursing class of 2018 made a bold move Wednesday night, July 19, by hosted the Opioid Addiction Epidemic Symposium in the Workforce Center on July 19 to bring together experts from the community and present the film “Chasing the Dragon.”

The film and the panel discussion revealed the heartbreaking outcomes to people’s lives from the misuse of prescription drugs.

Panel participants were Capt. Richard Grizzard, from the Franklin Fire Department; Lt. Jeffrey Matthews, a paramedic who serves in Suffolk and Isle of Wight; Lt. Julian Evans, who serves with the Franklin Police Department; Meredith Wren, who works with inmates at Deerfield Correctional Center; and Harvey, a recovering addict from opioids and heroin. Kim Lowe facilitated the symposium.

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“Chasing the Dragon” presented unscripted interviews with recovering addicts from opioids and heroin. The film showed these addicts aren’t always people on the street or people from bad homes. Rather, these addicts came from stable homes, according to local experts and the people in the film. They come from homes with strong families where they went camping and had other rich family experiences. They were Boy Scouts and even Explorers. They were athletes in their schools. They were cheerleaders and kids who were well-liked by their friends. Capt. Grizzard said they come “from every walk of life.” The road of opioids and heroin led them to wanting more and more drugs that too frequently end with death or prison.

The pathway to becoming an addict was described by addicts in the movie and the experts on the panel as being “a downward spiral.” One of the addicts stated, “Weed started it for me.” In the panel discussion, Harvey called marijuana the “gateway to opioids,” and he stated that he did not agree with legalizing marijuana.

The victims in the film who spoke candidly and the experts on the panel all described a descent that dehumanized the people who became addicts. They spoke of sacrificing family and careers to pursue their lust for more drugs. One young mother described taking larger and larger amounts of pills until she began shooting heroin when her daughter was 7 months old. She chose to leave her daughter and husband to live in a house filled with other drug users. She overdosed and then was revived repeatedly by paramedics and doctors and then had a “friend” come to her hospital room and insert heroin into her IVs. She got out of bed, walked out of the hospital and got back on the street to get more drugs, still in her hospital gown with needles and tubes still hanging off of her.

While Virginia is not one of the top five states with residents addicted to opioids, it is close to the top five. Answers are not easy. Some feel Narcan, a nose spray, can offer first responders, family members and caregivers an answer to people who have overdosed and are not able to respond.

However, many on the panel cautioned seeing this drug as an answer. Treatment, the panel agreed, was the best source of help. AA, NA, and Al Anon were cited as good sources of support.

Locally, Western Tidewater Mental Health Center offers treatment and support. All on the panel stressed family members and friends not being enablers. Harvey described his turning point at the age of 32, sitting in jail and realizing that he could not blame others but had to accept responsibility for his actions. He said his “ah-ha moment was God-given” and that there was a hole in his life where “only God belongs.”

For many of the addicts in the film, recovery was elusive. Some who were interviewed in jail were released only to get back into opioids and heroin and return to jail. Others continued in treatment and eventually worked with others seeking treatment. For many like Harvey, “remembering the pain keeps him clean.”