Prince William County and Manassas, Virginia, are trying to increase opioid addiction and overdose, but many say it’s not enough to combat easy access to most addictive drugs.
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Courts, police and social services agencies in Prince William County and Manassas are trying to do more to increase opioid addiction and overdose in the area, but many say this is not enough to combat easy access to addictive drugs, and reverse national trends.
Overdose and overdose deaths are on the rise in the Prince William area, most of which are attributed to opioids.
In Prince William, total overdose deaths have increased from 65 to 101 in 2019. Opioid deaths jumped from 54 to 88 and fentanyl, synthetic opioid-related deaths jumped from 46 to 82. County police have yet to collect statistics for the year.
In Manassas, the number of reported overdoses increased from 56 in 2019 to 64 in 2020 and 57 in the first eight months of 2021. In 2020, there will be 10 deadly overdoses in the city. There were seven until the end of August this year.
First responders in both jurisdictions have increased naloxone delivery, a life-saving overdose-reversal drug commonly known by its brand name Narcan. Police and firefighters carry the drug. The Prince William County Community Services Board conducts virtual narcan training twice a week for area residents at the end of the year.
Amy Ashworth of Prince William Commonwealth is also looking for new solutions to the overcrowding. Earlier this month, she told the Manassas City Council that her authority was working to stop the first drug court to serve adults in three jurisdictions, but she did not expect it to be up and running.
“We work with the Circuit Court and Criminal Justice Services, Pretrial Services,” Ashworth said. “This is the first time this jurisdiction has a drug court, and instead of criminalizing drug abuse, the focus will be on addressing the root causes of drug abuse.”
Similar courts already exist in the 44 Virginia jurisdictions and are intended to replace offenders with the traditional court system and prison time and for rehabilitation and treatment. Data collected by the Supreme Court of the Virginia Office of the Executive Secretary indicate that, so far in Virginia, courts have reduced the rate of re-arrest among drug offenders.
“Instead of pushing criminals to jail, the Drug Treatment Court Docket offers a program designed to break the cycle of voluntary, addictive and criminal behavior,” the court’s 2020 report states. “The Drug Treatment Court Docket provides the opportunity for early, continuous, intensive judicial oversight, treatment, mandatory periodic drug testing, community monitoring and appropriate sanctions and other rehabilitation services.”
County public health officials said disruptions to social and work life caused by the epidemic have led to many more mental health struggles, leading to a dramatic increase in overdose deaths last year. But not everyone agrees that there are no silver bullets.
In a recent survey of Northern Virginia health providers conducted by Inova Health System as part of the Addiction Campaign Regional Act, more than 70% of physicians saw an increase in mental health and addiction patients this year, and nearly 40% of surveyed physicians believed that access to resources was the biggest barrier.
Meg Carroll, head of Georgetown South Community Center in Manassas, said the spread of opioids affects almost everyone in the neighborhood, either directly through addiction or the life problems that come with it, particularly theft.
When families come to her for advice on what to do for loved ones suffering from opioid addiction, they usually refer her to Greater Prince William Health Center, which has locations in Manassas, Woodbridge and Dumfries. But they often say that the best treatment options are scarce for those without health insurance or for those without a record. And treatment options are important only for those who agree to seek help.
“The kid usually has to hit the entire rock bottom before they get there,” he said.
As a last resort, all community center staff have training and access to Narcan. Carroll has been asking for more attention on the issue from city government and police for some time. She says neighborhood residents want more educational formal events and focus more on property crimes resulting from opioid use, but many don’t want to acknowledge the problem.
At a recent city council meeting, Manassas Police Chief Doug Keane spoke of the lives saved by his officers and other first responders with the help of Narcan, but said there were forces beyond the city, county and region.
“You see this problem going on all over this country, it’s not unique … But how people react to it is different in every community,” he said, adding that his officers regularly refer people who suffer from addiction to social services. “But users … have the responsibility to try to get that help, stay with the program and make sure they follow the guidelines. There is no easy solution.”
In the meantime, Carroll sought to help neighborhoods identify and deal with addiction in their families by using neighborhood gatherings, as well as warning people to make sure the indoor furniture is tied up.
“All these children, I mean, they are children. [the opioid problem] Worse, I think we were insured for it. And it is terrible. ”