Opioid Addiction: Funding the Solution

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) -- Will millions of dollars solve the opioid crisis here in Virginia?

The state reported that last year, more people died of heroin or prescription overdoses than car accidents.

This year, the General Assembly set aside nearly $10 million to drive those numbers down. Where did the money go?

Virginia overdose numbers projected to top previous year

On a hot August day in Newport News, Jeremy Cooper's mother, Laurie Blair, remembers her son.

Frame by frame, she looked over pictures. She does this most days -- especially this month; Jeremy was born in August.

"When I think about how much he has missed out on, it breaks my heart,” she said with a sigh. “My heart is broken into a million pieces after this."

Some of the pictures show a young man struggling with heroin addiction. His mother knew his pain. She had to watch.

"It was four to five trips a day, running the toll to buy heroin,” she remembered.

With her help, Jeremy got clean. They spent hundreds of dollars a week, out of pocket, on methadone and treatment. Then one day in March of 2016, Laurie got a terrible phone call from police.

"Something triggered it, and he decided to use again,” she said. “After being clean for so many months, his body couldn't take it."

Jeremy died in an apartment in Newport News after taking heroin laced with fentanyl.

"Had he gotten medication and treatment when he got out, I think it would have really helped,” she said.

Special Coverage: Opioid Addiction

Medication and treatment,: That's what the state of Virginia promised back in February.

This summer, the Department of Behavioral Health and Development Services announced that $9.7 million was going out to the public to fight opioid addiction -- some for treatment and some for prevention.

"I think it's touching the tip of the iceberg,” said Eastern Virginia Medical School opioid addiction expert Dr. David Spiegel.

10 On Your Side broke down the funds that came back to our area:

In Hampton Roads the Community Service Boards of Norfolk, Chesapeake, Portsmouth, Virginia Beach, the Eastern Shore and Hampton/Newport News all received "prevention funds." That will essentially be money to bring emergency care for overdose victims.

"That saves their life, but that doesn't address everything that led up to that,” Dr. Spiegel said.

As far as treatment goes, the state gave those funds out to only 18 Community Service Boards.

"It seems like they're allocating it to the highest risk communities, the hardest hit communities,” Dr. Spiegel explained.

In our area, that was around $940,000 to Virginia Beach, $450,000 to Norfolk and around $100,000 to Portsmouth.

What does that mean for the cities?

Take Virginia Beach: The Community Service Board is using the funds to design a program to that will lead to a lifestyle change through medically assisted treatment, peer counseling and household assistance.

The details of the plan haven’t come out yet. But Dr. Spiegel said it is still a start.

"People have data and now they are implementing pilot programs to see what works,” Dr. Spiegel said.

Back in Newport News, Laurie Blair looks over the pictures of her lost son. In a month that starts with what would have been his 24th birthday, it hurts even more that it ends with Overdose Awareness Day on August 31.

"I have to raise awareness. If I could save a life, prevent somebody from feeling this pain of losing a child or a family member, I've got to do it,” she said.

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