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'There's always hope when there's life'—Culpeper leaders join Spanberger to highlight opiate deaths

Culpeper leaders stood with the local congresswoman this week at the U.S. Capitol in introducing legislation that would provide $900 million for a long-term community response to an alarming rise in fentanyl and other opiate deaths.

Police Chief Chris Jenkins and Rappahannock-Rapidan Community Services Director Jim LaGraffe thanked Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, for her attention to the national issue as co-sponsor of the Summer Barrow Prevention, Treatment, and Recovery Act.

Florida Republicans Tom O’Holleran and Maria Salazar along with North Dakota Republican Kelly Armstrong cosponsored the reauthorization of substance abuse programs.

“Culpeper is a small community about an hour and a half south, yet I can tell you we face almost daily the effects of opiate use and drugs and death,” Chief Jenkins said at the press conference March 29.

“Our officers are on the front lines almost every single day responding to an emergency call where someone has overdosed.”

Officers have saved many lives using Narcan to revive people, Jenkins said, adding he hopes it can give someone hope that they can get the right treatment that they need.

“There’s always hope when there’s life,” he said. The last two years of the COVID crisis took focus off the opiate epidemic.

“It is back again and it’s full force,” the police chief. He said the Summer Barrow legislation would save lives.

The legislation is named in memory of Virginian Summer Barrow, who died in January 2020 from a fentanyl overdose. Her mother, Carey Colvin, is now advocating on her behalf. Her daughter loved music, animals and her family, Colvin said at the press conference.

“She did not think as a child, oh I want to grow up to be an addict—nobody does,” she said.

Barrow broke her neck in a car accident and was prescribed an opiate for pain, Colvin said. When the pills ran out, she turned to heroin.

“She told me, when you use heroin, you don’t care about anything else—if you eat, if you work, bathe or sleep. You just want more,” Colvin said.

She kept telling her daughter her nine lives were going to run out, noting Barrow struggled with addiction for many years. Lack of funds and transportation hindered her ability to access treatment.

“Summer did not mean to die. She simply wanted to get high and go about her day,” Colvin said.

Her daughter used cocaine, heroin and fentanyl and died almost instantly, alone at her residence, from the fentanyl, said mom. Summer’s family found her five days later.

“The aftermath of her addiction has left us in a landscape of sadness, the loneliest place we have ever been. The hole she left in our life is cavernous and will never be filled,” Colvin said, adding she hoped the legislation in her daughter’s name would spare some other family what they are going through.

If Summer could talk, she would say, “Don’t let this happen to you. Please get help,” Colvin said.

The Culpeper five-county area saw 47 fatal overdoses in the first nine month of 2021, LaGraffe said at the press conference in Washington.

“We are a community of suburban and rural neighborhoods in the beautiful farmland, rolling hills and small towns at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains,” he said.

Yet the region has more than a 30 percent higher adult suicide rate than the national and state average, LaGraffe said.

His agency opened the SEE Recovery Center this past summer on the ideal of eliminating barriers to support and services for mental health and substance abuse while reducing the stigma. The center is peer-led, cost-effective and responsive to emergent community needs, LaGraffe said, for example, distribution of fentanyl test strips.

Open a short time, the recovery center is getting an estimated 1,000 visits per month.

According to the CDC, between October 2020 and October 2021 nearly 106,000 Americans died by drug overdose, a record for such deaths in a single year. Fatal overdoses in Virginia over the same time period increased a record 18 percent.

If passed, this legislation will provide needed funding for overdose prevention, first responder training, co-prescribing programs, along with pregnant and postpartum women substance use disorder treatment.

Culpeper Police Major Chris Settle attended with the chief to advocate on matters that are affecting the citizens of Culpeper, Settle said, including mental health. These issues are impacting Culpeper law enforcement daily and have a direct nexus to crime, Settle said.

“The addiction crisis touches all of our communities—whether urban, suburban, or rural. Right now, we need to recognize that there are two pandemics happening in our country; even as we’re making significant progress in the fight against COVID-19, the opioid and substance use disorder crisis continues to worsen. Going forward, we must focus on strengthening access to treatment and recovery programs,” said Spanberger. “

While there is a shortage of substance use disorder and mental health services across the country, rural communities face unique challenges in meeting their needs, Rep Armstrong said in a statement.

American Substance Abuse & Mental Health Administration grant programs have helped state, local, and tribal governments in North Dakota provide care to those most in need and he said he proud to support reauthorization.

“Homelessness, mental health, and substance abuse are significant issues for South Florida, and Congress must confront these issues and the challenges they present,” said Salazar.

“Working on the Chicago PD, I saw heartbreaking overdoses that tore apart families. Since then, the opioid crisis has grown and worsened, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said O’Halleran. “

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