After being in a motor vehicle accident, a man was transported to an emergency room where they wanted to give him morphine for his pain. He turned it down, telling the medical team, “I’m a recovering addict. Don’t do this to me.”

“To get a call like that from an ER team to tell us someone came in and turned down morphine on their own free will—you have to take those little victories,” said Maj. Jim Pritchett of the Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Office. He’s a jail administrator who helps run the Heroin Addiction Recovery Program (HARP) at the Chesterfield County Jail.

The individual in the story was a graduate of the program.

Pritchett traveled to Orange County last week to discuss HARP’s success with the Epidemic Intelligence Council (EpIC) meeting at the Central Virginia Regional Jail. The jail, which serves Orange, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa and Madison counties, has seen an increase in inmates due to opioid-related crimes. The effects of the opioid epidemic are being seen every day through increasing overdose 911 calls, growing foster care numbers and a greater number of fatalities due to drug overdoses.

EpIC was established by Orange County’s Director of Social Services Crystal Hale in an attempt to facilitate a collective, coordinated effort to address the opioid crisis. The council is comprised of more than a dozen officials representing local law enforcement, health services, schools and local government. Citizens hoping to increase awareness, establish treatment services locally and compile resources for addicts and their families also are a part of the group. Without a recovery house or treatment facilities locally, the group has discussed how to bring more resources to the community and which resources are available. Council members also have spoken about the importance of removing the stigma people have about drug addiction.

“It’s going to take a village for us to help these people,” said April Hutchison, the re-entry coordinator for Chesterfield County Jail. “A lot of people have the stigma that it’s their choice. Well, it’s not. It’s an illness.”

Hale has invited speakers representing local programs, clinics and organizations to address the group about their efforts to combat or treat those affected by the epidemic. When she learned of HARP, she jumped at the opportunity to have one of the program’s coordinators speak to the group.

More than 600 inmates have completed the program since it began in 2016. It’s an “intensive initiative to help those suffering from the disease—which is their addiction—overcome it.” Through medical, therapeutic and educational approaches, addicts are provided options and tools they can use to develop a recovery path which works best for them. The peer-based, six-month program takes components of Narcotics Anonymous and adapts them to meet individual needs.

At the Central Virginia Regional Jail (CVRJ), Superintendent Frank Dyer said the jail contains a strong re-entry program, but is looking at ways to improve those services.

Daily, between 35 and 45 CVRJ inmates participate in the jail’s work-release program, Dyer said.

“That’s our focus: getting them gainful employment and helping them be employed when they leave here,” he said. “Once they’re released [from jail], they keep them on as employees as long as they’re good employees.”

The jail has had a re-entry coordinator and team in place for about a year, the superintendent said.

The jail offers a General Educational Development (GED) program, anger management classes, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Celebrate Recovery.

Staff also works with inmates prior to being released on soft skills training, interview techniques and resume writing. Inmates can participate in quarterly re-entry fairs, where employers come and talk to inmates about employment opportunities.

However, housing and transportation remain issues inmates face once they leave the jail, Dyer explained.

“That’s the main hurdle we see as far as our jurisdictions,” he told the council. “We can tell them. We can set them up, but once they go out the door that’s it. They’re out of our custody and control.”

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