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Over the years, Jan Brown has seen a growing number of young people listed in the obituary section of the newspaper.
The paper usually doesn’t give a cause, but her own research often reveals the deaths trace back to drug addictions and overdoses.
“Sometimes I don’t even want to look,” said Brown, founder and executive director of SpiritWorks Foundation Center for the Soul, a nonprofit located on Mooretown Road in Williamsburg that focuses on peer-based support for people recovering from addiction.
“Just looking at the newspaper and seeing the young people continue to die is one of the big impetuses for me,” she added.
Following a statewide public health emergency resulting from Virginia’s growing opioid addiction crisis, 70 York-County Sheriff’s Office deputies will soon be equipped with Naloxone, a potentially life-saving drug that is administered after a drug overdose.
The doses will be bought using over $7,500 in donations and money fundraised by SpiritWorks.
Naloxone is a drug for which police officers are seeing an increased need, as they are often the first to respond to emergencies, sheriff’s office spokesman Lt. Dennis Ivey said.
“Being first responders, if we get there before the medics do, we could save a life with that,” Ivey said. “We know there are going to be times when we arrive before the medics, and we want to have that opportunity to have a life.”
Heroin, prescription painkillers and other opioids are central players in Virginia’s addiction crisis. In November, State Health Commissioner Marissa J. Levine declared Virginia opioid addiction crisis a public health emergency, according to a Governor’s Office news release.
The statistics are staggering: 1,039 Virginians died from opioid overdoses in 2015, according to the most recent data available from the Virginia Department of Health. Opioid overdose death reports from early 2016 also predicted an increase in overdoses for calendar year 2016.
In 2013, fatal drug overdose became the leading cause of unnatural death in Virginia. One year later, overdose also became the top cause of accidental death, according to the department of health. Fatal drug overdose has surpassed both vehicle- and gun-related deaths.
Consequently, only eight law enforcement agencies in Virginia carry Naloxone, according to the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition. The York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office will be the ninth.
“The heroin and opioid overdoses have spiked over the past few years,” Ivey said.
Commonly known as Narcan, Naloxone temporarily reverses effects of an overdose, according to the drug’s website. It blocks certain opioid receptors in the brain and stops the effects of opioid medicines without having any addictive properties.
The difference between life and death
For Nicole Petrou, 27, four consecutive doses of Narcan in 2009 made the difference between life and death. For the last 15 months, Petrou has been alcohol- and drug-free, and now works with Spiritworks to help others struggling with addiction.
Petrou has been in and out of hospitals, jails and psychiatric facilities over the years, and was familiar with area law enforcement, she said.
Her most recent interaction with police, however, was when she visited the York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office and told her story, stressing the importance of having Narcan available.
“It’s not just inner city people who are addicted in Virginia,” said Brown, who is in long-term recovery and has been clean since 1987. She carries Narcan with her at all times in case she finds someone who has overdosed.
To purchase all 70 doses, and hopefully more, SpiritWorks is running a fundraiser called “Soles for the Soul.” The organization will be collecting shoes through June, which will be sold to a company called Funds2Orgs.
The fundraiser’s goal is $3000, or 300 bags containing about 25 pairs of shoes each. SpiritWorks has already received two large donations – $2,000 and $2,800 – to kickstart the fundraiser.
Each package of Narcan will cost $75 and contains two four-milligram nasal spray doses.
“It’s a whole lot of shoes,” Brown said. “A lot of it is about awareness and doing education about Naloxone and the issue, and getting shoes from people who normally wouldn’t support the cause.”
Once the first 70 doses are purchased, Brown said she hopes to buy replacement doses for the sheriff’s office until they are able to include Narcan in their department’s budget.
“We discussed getting Narcan before, but it was a funding thing,” Ivey said. “You need to have replacements if you use it.”
Ivey said the deputies will receive training on how to use Narcan once the doses arrive.
Brown hopes to eventually equip all local police departments with Narcan, including Williamsburg and James City County. Brown has also served on the Governor’s Task Force on Prescription Drug and Heroin Abuse and is a trainer for the REVIVE! Opioid Overdose and Naloxone Education program.
The York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office will have more information on their use of Narcan after the fundraiser is over, Ivey said.
“If we can just save one life, it’s worth it,” he said.
Want to donate?
Here are the drop-off locations for the fundraiser:
-Soles for the Soul box outside SpiritWorks, 5800 Mooretown Rd.
-Bruton Parish, 331 W Duke of Gloucester St.
-Bucktrout of Williamsburg Funeral Home, 4124 Ironbound Rd.
-With notice, SpiritWorks can also pick up shoes. Call 757-903-0000.