The opioid crisis took center stage in Charlottesville on Tuesday, February 27, as people shared ideas on how to help others who are addicted get clean and move on with their lives.
Tuesday’s event was hosted by Women United, which addresses human service needs in the area. It says the challenge of opioids is both misuse and need.
“The United States has 5 percent of the global population, the United States consumes 85 percent of all opioids,” says Robert Tracci, Albemarle County’s commonwealth’s attorney.
Experts from the health, education, and legal communities came together on Tuesday to talk about the scope of opioid abuse in central Virginia and the steps that should be taken to curb the issue.
“We're seeing that families are being impacted; we're seeing that it's impacting people’s abilities to function, and their jobs, their everyday jobs, for everyday life,” says Mary Jackson, the director of women’s recovery services at Region Ten. “And we're just trying to figure it out as a collective community.”
Panelists say the Charlottesville area is in the middle in terms of percentage of people suffering from opioid addiction, while the southwestern, northern, and eastern regions of Virginia report higher rates of opioid abuse.
“A lot of people are introduced to opioids in a healthcare encounter - they're having pain of some kind, their physician, their dentist, offers an opioid,” says Dr. Paul Targonski, a primary care physician at the University of Virginia.
Some speakers on Tuesday noted that if someone is addicted, it's best to have compassion and know that addiction is a chronic illness and must be treated like one.
“The first step is just to let them know that hope is available, and that there's treatment available,” says Jackson.
In many cases, the fault lies with the supplier rather than the person who was supplied with the drugs.
“So our commitment is to aggressively prosecute distributors and traffickers of opioids and heroin, but to give low-level nonviolent offenders the treatment that they deserve,” says Tracci.
Panelists say there are opioid alternatives available for people who are dealing with pain of some kind, and more and more doctors are starting to prescribe them.