Crystal Hale

Crystal Hale, director of Orange County Social Services, organized the Epidemic Intelligence Council to address the local addiction and overdose crisis. 

When Crystal Hale was named director of Orange County Social Services in September of 2017, she quickly realized the county had a serious drug problem on its hands. Although local law enforcement, the commonwealth’s attorney’s office, social services and various other agencies and organizations were dealing with the crisis individually, Hale saw a need for a coordinated, community-wide effort. With that goal in mind, she convened the first meeting of the Epidemic Intelligence Council (EpIC) in February of 2018.

“I wanted to get a cross-section of leaders, individuals—anyone who had insight or had been affected by this issue—so we could meet to discuss what we’re doing as a community and where the gaps are and ultimately what we could be doing to seek further resolution to the problem,” Hale said. She stressed that the monthly meetings at the Orange County Airport are open to all who want to pitch in and share their knowledge.

Early on, members of EpIC set out to learn more about the local drug problem, including the extent of overdoses and what was being done to help addicts. Presentations by representatives from the sheriff’s office, fire and EMS, Rappahannock Rapidan Community Services and other members of the group proved instructional.

By meeting monthly, each member of EpIC learned what all the other members of the group had to offer.

“Resources have been historically quite limited, compared to the need,” Hale said. “We do have a lot of great resources locally and regionally that maybe folks were not aware of.”

Once Hale and the members of the council felt they knew what kind of help was available and which resources were still needed, including more mental health counselors, they shifted their focus to developing a strategic plan.

Key components of the plan are its vision and mission. The vision is “Working together to create a healthy drug- and addiction-free community,” and the mission is “To boost awareness of the opioid crisis by identifying available resources, furthering education and promoting wellbeing in Orange County.”

As EpIC moves into its next phase, members have formed three committees to address the drug crisis. Hale said the education committee is raising awareness of the opioid crisis throughout the community and specifically in the schools. The resources committee is cataloging all the local resources available to those dealing with drug addiction, identifying areas of need, seeking out additional resources and creating a database for the public.

The marketing committee is launching a social media campaign to get the word out about what EpIC is doing. It also has begun sharing information on resources at community events, such as the Shady Grove Health Fair last October.

In addition, Hale said the marketing committee is trying to get people to feel more comfortable talking openly about addiction and all the problems and hardships that come with it.

“There’s this ugly stigma around addiction and drug use that has created sort of a vacuum where folks are suffering—not just those who are using, but their family and friends,” she said.

“Through the marketing committee, we’re trying to address that stigma,” she continued. “So many people are suffering—it’s not because they’re bad people. We’re trying to address the fact that this ugly stigma causes even more suffering.”

In a significant outgrowth of EpIC’s work, and due to a partnership between social services and Rappahannock Rapidan Community Services, county residents now have an ally who can answer virtually all their questions about drug addiction resources. Hale describes Rosalie Williams as “a primary point of contact for all Orange County residents who are seeking resources for individuals and/or friends and families of those suffering from addiction.” She may be reached at 672-1155, extension 8143, or (540) 717-6893. Her email address is rwilliams@rrcsb.org.

Although Hale has been the driving force behind EpIC, she is quick to credit all the members of the group, including the board of supervisors, school administrators and community members whose family members have struggled with addiction.

“We have been so blessed with passionate and capable participants willing to put themselves out there and share their stories. I see myself as just a facilitator. It’s the work that everybody is doing that makes it so successful,” she said.

For information about upcoming EpIC meetings, contact Crystal Hale at 672-1155, extension 8122. For a list of resources for drug users and their families and friends, go to the EpIC link on the Orange County Social Services page and click on resources: http://orangecountyva.gov/index.aspx?NID=845.

Hilary Holladay covers education and politics for the Orange County Review. The author of five books, she is currently writing a biography of the poet Adrienne Rich.

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