Combating addiction in the Valley
According to the Centers for Disease Control, every day 44 people across the country die from prescription drug overdoses --nearly 30 from heroin.
On Thursday, another step was taken with the passage of the
(CARA) in the U.S. Senate. The growing drug epidemic has everyone from recovering addicts to lawmakers searching for answers.
So is it fair to say there is a drug problem across the state? Special Agent Jay Perry, the coordinator of the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug Task Force told WHSV, "Oh it's wider than the state of Virginia: it's huge."
In 2014, drug overdoses in Va. and WVa. claimed the lives of more than 1,600 people --and across the country, more than 28,000. That number has quadrupled since the year 2000.
From lawmakers to law enforcement to recovering addicts, there is no easy answer.
On Capitol Hill, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WVa.) is pushing for change. Sen. Manchin said, "Twenty years ago, if you were fooling with drugs, that was a criminal, that was a crime, we would just put you in jail." Sen. Manchin added: "Guess what? Twenty years later, it hasn't helped. You're still addicted, it hasn't cured anybody, treatment centers aren't there, we haven't done a thing. Now if we start basically looking at addiction, as an illness, an illness needs treatment."
In the Shenandoah Valley, law enforcement is working to combat changing drug profiles, and the way addiction is approached.
Special Agent Perry said, "The stigma of the junkie on the street is no longer --and that's just not what we're dealing with-- it's a disease; it should be treated as a disease."
The Northwest Virginia Regional Drug Task Force is working with community partners, including medical providers, to find treatment solutions.
"Back in the day, when we were working all of the cocaine places, we weren't seeing people dying from it," said Special Agent Perry. "Occasionally someone would overdose and die from it, but that's where the heroin and the opiate are so bad: is that people are just dying from it."
So far this year, four people have died from drug overdoses in the northern Shenandoah Valley. There has been a 170 percent increase in overdoses and deaths since 2012.
There is no simple solution, but Special Agent Perry said peer-to-peer recovery is one of the of the most effective.
That is exactly what is happening in Petersburg, WVa. through Celebrate Recovery, a 12-step faith-based program welcoming anyone with any sort of hang-up in life --including drug addiction. More information about Celebrate Recovery is online
"Some of the saddest things a parent could ever see is whenever they walk into the bathroom and see their son passed out on the floor because they're overdosed on drugs," said recovered-addict turned Celebrate Recovery leader Dylan Riggleman. "I started to realize the hurt and the cause that I've done to my family and my friends and my relationship and it's just really helped me change."
"There's a lot of opportunity in the state of West Virginia to help people who struggle with addiction and it's just not happening," said Elizabeth Granese, also a recovered addict and Celebrate Recovery leader. "We lack the facilities and the need for this area, and without it I'm afraid to just continue to see people just continue to dig a pit for themselves and get worse in their addiction."
With little-to-no affordable treatment options nearby, Celebrate Recovery brings hope to a community gripped by addiction.
"Addiction has completely taken this community by a stronghold," said Granese. "It's sad: I'm constantly seeing people I went through high school with, just addicted," Granese added. "I've lost friends; I've been to funerals."
"I mean it is devastating: you have --when you're on drugs-- you have to get money for your drugs and it devastates your community," said Joyce Riggleman, another leader with Celebrate Recovery.
That access to help just might save a life --in a way, they say, jail doesn't always help. "Someone needs help, at that moment: that might be the only moment that you have to help them get off the drugs right then and there," said Betty Christensen, a leader with Celebrate Recovery. "Sometimes it could cost them their life."
Celebrate Recovery is not a rehab center, but a support system, with leaders helping others through the same things they have been through, leading by example.
"Letting go of my addiction was the best thing I ever did," Granese said. "Since I turned my life over and quit using drugs, my life has been so much more rewarding than it was, whenever I was an addict."
And the main message is a simple four letter word:
For more on the heroin epidemic across the country, you can to tune in to ABC's David Muir's special report on Thursday, March 10 on