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Roanoke Valley coalition offers blueprint to attack addictions

Roanoke Valley coalition offers blueprint to attack addictions

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A Roanoke Valley coalition on Wednesday offered a detailed guide to tackle opioid and other addictions.

The Roanoke Valley Collective Response’s Blueprint to Action is a two-year effort by hundreds of people who joined together to influence policies and programs so that they could better reach individuals and families affected by addictions and work on the underlying problems that lead to substance use.

The collective includes people from health care, law enforcement, emergency medical services, local and state government, education, businesses, the faith community and a wide range of organizations. The collective has brought 280 individuals and 130 organizations in the Roanoke Valley together to focus on finding solutions.

“I remember having a lot of conversations before the collective began about all of the good work that so many disparate organizations were engaged in and doing to try to address the opioid epidemic. And everyone was feeling as though just doing their small part wasn’t going to make a dent,” said U.S. Magistrate Robert Ballou, a member of the collective steering committee.

The committee held a Zoom meeting Wednesday morning to announce the plan.

“This is a community-based problem. The ravages of addiction have an impact on families. It has an impact on businesses, and obviously on individuals,” he said. “But it also becomes justice-involved and has an impact on our courts. If we can reduce all those impacts, we are going to make our community much more whole and much more wholesome.”

When the collective formed in September 2018, it had 60 members, each with some piece of the opioid epidemic who were looking to join forces. The Hope Initiative, a volunteer effort to connect people with addictions to services, was sprouting from its nascent origin of limited hours at the Bradley Free Clinic.

Janine Underwood, director of the free clinic and co-chair of the collective’s steering committee, said the collective continues to grow with new partners, and its work has continued throughout the pandemic to address addictions that are worsening under the stress and isolation of the last six months.

Kimberly Horn, a professor at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and co-chair of the steering committee, walked through the blueprint and its five key components: prevention, treatment, crisis response, recovery and child and family support. Under each category, several priorities are listed that localities throughout the valley could prioritize to best meet their needs, she said.

For example, priorities under the recovery category range from increasing sober housing and wrap-around services, to showing employers how recovery can benefit the business and the employee, to talking with insurers about increasing coverage for recovery services.

“We wanted research and evaluation wrapped around all that we do,” she said, noting that being able to sort through data was important for each category’s working group.

To aid with data collection, the group benefited from a pilot project through Virginia’s Framework for Addiction Analysis and Community Transformation. Horn said it allows all the organizations to share information and overdose mapping and find “real-time answers to some of our problems,” she said.

The blueprint will be used to guide a response to addiction issues in the Roanoke Valley, as the group continues to look for gaps in services.

The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated the collective’s work.

“With COVID there’s been the skyrocket of overdoses, fatal and not, that we hear about day in and day out,” said Christine Baldwin, project director and certified peer recovery specialist with Roanoke Valley HOPE Initiative. “We are seeing a large relapse of those in recovery because their support systems and pathways to recovery are being altered or completely ceased due to COVID.”

She said the blueprint will need to evolve along with changes in the community.

“From the get-go, I stressed this is an addiction epidemic, not just opioids. Those substances are going to shift and change and rise and fall if we are not really treating the disease of addiction and the underlying cause of trauma that are driving that addiction,” Baldwin said. “We’ve going to just trade one substance for another.”

Members of the collective said the initiative has led to agencies partnering with each other, which opened up more treatment and recovery options.

It has led to programs to distribute naloxone in more places so it can be used to reverse overdoses.

The group has helped change attitudes so that more people understand addictions as brain disorders rather than character flaws.

The effort has also led to grants that help women train for and find jobs, and help families and children affected by addiction.

The group has identified gaps in services and helped plug them by connecting people caught up in the justice system with programs that keep them out of jail.

“We need everyone involved in this. It touches every area of the valley,” said Nancy Hans, executive director of Prevention Council of Roanoke County.

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