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Police, former addicts, Miss America gather to discuss the opioid crisis: ‘It’s life or death’

RICHMOND, Va. -- On the third floor of VCU's Cabell Library Tuesday afternoon, a large group gathered to discuss Virginia's ongoing opioid crisis.

More than 160 law enforcement, medical and educational experts shared space for the "Silent No More Overdose Symposium."

Even Miss America Camille Schrier joined the conversation.

"This is something that we have to talk about, it's something that has a stigma attached to it and so sometimes it's uncomfortable to have this discussion but it's really necessary," said Camille Schrier, a VCU Pharmacy student and the winner of the 2020 Miss America pageant.

“Today is the time to engage our individual expertise and capabilities in order to benefit the greater good of Virginia,” said Colonel Gary T. Settle, Superintendent of the Virginia State Police in a press release. “No single one of us has all the answers. We have to collectively find new solutions to the opioid crisis, and find new ways to help one another so we can save more lives, and ultimately, save our communities.”

Lauren Payne said she knows first hand the devastating effects of opioid addiction.

"It's life or death for me. I have nine months clean and sober," Payne said.

And the road to recovery hasn't always been easy for her.

"Probably around age 22, things got worse for me and I've been in and out since then," Payne said, explaining that her drug of choice back then was heroin. "It's just a different intensity, it's a different withdrawal. It's just a different side to addiction," said Payne.

According to the Virginia Department of Health, an average of three Virginians died from an opioid overdose each day in 2018. In 2019, there were a total of 650 deaths.

"It is real," Payne said.

With a family at home needing her guidance, Payne is hoping important conversations like this can help lead to breakthroughs in lowering the statistics.

"I've been giving it my all and I've gotten a lot of rewards that way and I plan on enjoying the rest of my life clean and sober," she said.

If you are or know someone struggling with an addiction, reach out to the Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services National Helpline to get help.

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