Opioid Abatement: battling opioid addiction in Hampton Roads

Published 10:37 am Wednesday, October 18, 2023

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Following the Commonwealth of Virginia settling a lawsuit with prescription opioid manufacturers and distributors, the City of Suffolk participated in the settlements and has received funding to address the opioid epidemic. To help with this effort, the city is partnering with the Western Tidewater Community Services Board to help reach out to sufferers of opioid and drug addiction to find ways to provide opioid recovery. This follows a vote made on June 23 by the Virginia Opioid Abatement Authority’s Board of Directors to award over $23 million in grants to 76 Virginia cities and counties for opioid recovery efforts. 

As part of the Region 5 area, which includes the cities of Suffolk and Franklin as well as Isle of Wight and Southampton counties, WTCSB Northgate Clinical Administrator Vonda Warren-Lilly talked about how their Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services are developing a plan to support sufferers of Opioid Use Disorder. She notes that for this to happen, community input is needed.

“It’s one thing to hear from the stakeholders, those individuals who we recognize the importance of getting out prevention in recovery and treatment services, but to hear from the people that are looking and seeing it everyday being affected by it in their communities and seeing their neighbors and families and friends being affected by it, we want to hear from them as to what they feel that they need in order to combat this epidemic,” Warren-Lilly said.

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Part of this initiative was a town hall held on Wednesday, Sept. 27, for the community alongside panel members to speak on what is needed toward recovery efforts. Suffolk Deputy City Manager Azeez Felder reflected on what professionals suggested at the public session.

“Medical detox centers [were] something stated that was needed,” Felder said. “Community support and engagement … family support, because when somebody is addicted, it doesn’t just affect them. It affects their entire circle, their family members.”

Felder also noted that peer recovery specialists and transitional housing were also mentioned. On additional resources, Warren-Lilly talked about the State Opioid Response program that provides “prevention treatment and recovery” to clients currently housed at WTCSB.

“Connecting with the city and utilizing some of the funds that we can obtain from the city will enhance the program that we already have … and we can expand more with that program,” Warren-Lilly said. 

To participate in the SOR program, Warren-Lilly says that Same Day Access services are provided to qualifying clients at both the Suffolk Northgate and Franklin clinics. SDA services are available at Suffolk Northgate on Mondays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. while available at Franklin on Thursdays with no appointment to receive an assessment. Residents in need of transportation for SDA can call (757) 758-5106. Warren-Lilly also detailed their prevention and wellness division.

“They’re out in the community, hitting the pavement running with prevention information. Not just for opioids, but substance abuse in general, mental health,” she said. “We offer free training — our prevention division will go out and train organizations, whether it’s private or public, professional, whatever organization in the catchment of Western Tidewater – that’s Suffolk, Southampton County, Isle of Wight, the City of Franklin – will go out and will do training. Because people don’t know what they don’t know.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Opioids are a “class of drug used to reduce pain.” Such opioids include prescription opioids, fentanyl and the illegal drug heroin. Basic kinds of prescription opioids include OxyContin, Morphine and Methadone. Despite society’s perceptions and stereotypes, Warren-Lilly stressed that individuals addicted to opioids can look like your everyday citizens. 

“Functional professionals that get up everyday and go to work, make it happen, [are] physically present for their family and their friends … They ‘appear’ to be fully functional, but behind the scenes, they’re using opioids to keep them moving and with that being said, I’m finding that those users can’t be included in statistics and things like that because you really don’t know,” she said.

WTCSB Residential Specialist and Case Manager Keira Majeed likewise emphasized that addiction “doesn’t discriminate” and reflected on an individual she met during her days of active addiction.

“When I was in active addiction, one of my closest friends at that time was a retired state police officer who was injured in a high-speed accident who was prescribed opioids and became addicted. And when he couldn’t get enough from his doctor, then he sought them off the streets and that’s how we crossed paths,” Majeed said. “I mean, all walks of life. He came from a very prestigious family when I came from a very average family.”

Expressing how it can affect all age groups, Majeed notes how now there are older individuals in their 50s and 60s becoming addicted.

“Because these were people who were prescribed opioids throughout their lives, probably for years for a good reason, and now that there is such a strict regulation on them, they can’t get them as much so now they’re turning to heroin and fentanyl and things like that on the street to substitute what they’re not getting prescription wise,” she said. 

Suffolk Administrative Analyst Nicole Porter likewise emphasized removing the stigma of what it looks like and understanding that addiction is all around us. She reflected on a friend of hers who suffered from opioid addiction.

“She was a nurse. A nurse administrator who was addicted to opioids who lost her life from opioids … It is everywhere. The public just needs to open their eyes and just look around them. I promise you, if you open your eyes and take the stigma off, you’ll see it,” Porter said. “And once we do that, and then I think we can effectively reach the issue.”

Speaking from a case management standpoint, Majeed expressed the need for the funding to be used toward transitional housing for OUD sufferers. 

“One thing that I see from the case management standpoint, that gives me the opportunity to be boots on the ground, kind of working one-on-one with individuals, is there’s a need for housing,” Majeed said. “I would love to see Suffolk get some type of transitional housing, which we briefly mentioned earlier. Something that is more long-term that the client can be in for at least up to a year. This would give them the opportunity to work on their addiction. To work on their mental health, because most people that we serve have co-occurring disorders. They have both. But you can’t focus on your mental health and your substance use addiction if your basic needs aren’t being met.”

Finally, Majeed expressed her hopes for funding to be used toward hiring more peer recovery specialists like herself to help those suffering on the ground. Peer recovery specialists would work alongside the fire department, police department and city agencies during any emergency calls.

“For instance, when there is a call for an overdose, if the police department or the fire department can show up with a peer such as myself to meet that person in their moment of trauma and to be able kind of share a snippet of my story and for that person to see me on the other side of the fence,” she said. “[It] would give them just that hope and inspiration that they need to know that ‘If she can make it out of the trenches, then so can I.’ So again, I would love to see some of the funding spent on that.”