Tyrone Nelson and Tommy Branin column: Building an effective recovery ecosystem | Columnists

By Tyrone Nelson and Tommy Branin

By Tyrone Nelson and Tommy Branin

AT person struggling with addiction for years finally decides he’s ready to get help, but not a single publicly funded detox bed is available across Virginia. Three weeks later, a bed becomes available but it’s too late; the young man has slipped back into the world of addiction and cannot be located.

A mother calls the sheriff, crying and pleading for her adult daughter to be locked up, out of fear she is going to overdose again.

These are real stories describing the challenges we face with the scurge of addiction. In 2021, there were 97 known overdose deaths in Henrico County. We are not unique; overdose is a leading cause of unnatural death in the United States.

Addiction causes enormous suffering and harm to individuals, families, businesses and communities. It otherwise leads law-abiding citizens into crime and the justice system, which is ill-equipped to handle the volume or complexity of the problem.

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In 2019, when more than 2,000 inmates underwent detox in Henrico’s jail, we knew we had to do something different. The two of us launched and led the Henrico Recovery Roundtable.

For nine months, we met with a range of clinicians, persons in recovery, members of law enforcement and community stakeholders. The group found consensus on a broad set of recommendations to create a more comprehensive and effective recovery ecosystem in Henrico — aimed at helping those suffering from addiction while also enhancing public safety. All of those recommendations now are being implemented.

For example, Henrico has inspected and approved 35 state-certified recovery residences where people suffering from addiction can live in a sober and supportive environment. Since July 1, 2021, Henrico’s courts have approved more than 230 “recovery contract” bond motions, which allow nonviolent offenders to join a recovery community while undergoing treatment. A scholarship program was created to help indigent people reside in one of these community facilities.

The Recovery Roundtable learned that after paramedics revive an overdose victim, the person often will refuse further treatment. Emergency medical services clears the scene, only to return a few days later because the same person has overdosed again, frequently with fatal consequence. To break this cycle, Henrico has started to proactively connect overdose patients, if they are willing, with a certified peer recovery specialist who offers linkage to services and treatment.

The county also created a treatment program to provide individuals with medication assisted recovery, combined with individual and group therapy, case coordination and peer support. In 2021, admissions to this program rose 134% and we are projecting an increase of 210% in admissions in 2022.

These initiatives show how Henrico is building a more effective recovery ecosystem while ensuring public safety. But our efforts are frustrated by the lack of inpatient psychiatric treatment beds in general, and licensed detoxification beds in particular.

Our clinicians frequently are unable to find beds for patients who urgently need them. While detoxing in jail should be a last resort, it continues to be the only option for too many people. Recovery homes are part of the solution, but they are not licensed or equipped to provide detox services.

Access to detox is a statewide problem, and there is broad agreement between law enforcement, the health care and mental health community, the courts, and both political parties that more psychiatric and detox beds are urgently needed. Key questions persist as to who will pay for these services, and whether the beds should be in a “state facility” or if this is a “community-based” issue.

The Henrico County Board of Supervisors will not sit back and wait for others to solve this problem while addiction continues to cause suffering, loss and death. We are building our own detox and treatment initiation center.

In 2021, we appropriated funds to build the 20,000-square-foot facility, equipped with 30 private beds. We are soliciting proposals from health care providers to partner with the county to operate the facility, with an expected grand opening in 2024. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, recognized the need for this center and helped to obtain an additional $1 million in funding to make it a reality.

We recognize residents from across the region, and not just from Henrico, will seek services at our center. We want to be accommodating to everyone who needs help, and we recognize Henrico will not be able to solve the detox problem for the entire region, or the entire commonwealth for that matter. But we will do what we can.

We urge the commonwealth, other local governments and private hospitals to all make the investments required to provide critically needed services. These investments are necessary to provide hope to those suffering from the illness of addiction, while maintaining and enhancing the safety of our communities.

The Rev. Tyrone Nelson represents the Varina District on the Henrico Board of Supervisors. Contact him at: Varina@henrico.us Tommy Branin represents the Three Chopt District on the Henrico Board of Supervisors. Contact him at: Threechopt@henrico.us


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