Hundreds pack Richmond opioid summit; desperate to heal community

RICHMOND, Va - On the same day President Trump declared the opioid crisis a national health emergency, Hanover resident Jonathan Tyree shared his story on stage in front of 750 people at the Richmond Convention Center.  A far cry from where he was last December, when he used heroin before going with his wife and two kids to take a Christmas photo with Santa.

"Your addiction doesn't wait for you at all," Tyree, who is now in recovery and sober since May, said.

Tyree was a panelist in one of several discussion sessions at Revive RVA, a regional summit aimed at exploring local solutions to the opioid crisis in Central Virginia.  Deaths related to opioid overdoses in Richmond, Chesterfield, Henrico, and Hanover have spiked over the past six years, according to data from the Virginia Department of health.

Number of deaths related to opioid overdoses in Richmond Metro:

  • 2010 - 51
  • 2012 - 79
  • 2014 - 108
  • 2016 - 189

During Thursday's summit, the speakers identified several ways communities can help prevent the spread of opioids and help those currently battling addiction.

  • Reforming prescribing practices to keep pills out of medicine cabinets
  • Making access to treatment easier
  • Removing the stigma surrounding addiction by treating it like other diseases, such as diabetes
  • Demanding that insurance companies include addiction treatment in coverage plans
  • Provide state funding and charitable dollars to organizations and non-profits focused on helping people recover
  • Speaking up if a friend, family member, or neighbor is displaying signs of drug use
  • Taking a comprehensive approach by unifying policy makers, law enforcement, community groups, and ordinary people

One of the keynote speakers, Dr. Omar Abubaker, lost his son to addiction in 2014.  CBS 6 has chronicled the Abubaker family's journey in the past.

Dr. Abubaker, who works as a oral surgeon at VCU Medical Center, said the opioid crisis knows no boundaries, making access to care critical.

"We have to save the lives that are effected because if we don't find treatment for them, if we don't find resources for them, they are just going to go and die," said Dr. Abubaker.  "Just like if you have diabetes, and you don`t get it treated, you get to the point you have your leg amputated. We are in the latest stages of the disease in our society.  Where we let it go, and it`s started coming into every place and every home."

Tyree said he overdosed several years ago and spent eight days in a coma.  For those in our area still battling addiction, Tyree said his experience shows that the message is clear.

"If recovery doesn't feel possible, it is possible.  It's possible for anybody," he said.

Resources to help those suffering for addiction are available in our area.  You can find a list of organizations at the Virginia Aware website.