Prevention Council Rolls Out New Initiative to Fight Opioid Crisis

Prevention Council of Roanoke Valley Executive director Nancy Hans explains the details of the new initiative .
(photo: Hank Ebert)

A new $70,000 grant from Foundation for Roanoke Valley will help the Prevention Council of Roanoke Valley get a new program called “Urgent Love” off the ground. Centered in part around the website, it will be a clearinghouse for information about the resources available to communities in a 26 county region that are battling the scourge of opioid addiction – be it legal opiates like certain painkillers or illegal heroin.

Urgent Love will also include compelling videos on line, testimonials from people that have battled opioid addiction, or from family members that have coped with seeing a loved one wrestle with what is now widely recognized as a brain disease – the addictive nature of opioids.

The Urgent Love initiative will also work to forge collaborations between community partners, figuring there is strength in numbers when tackling the often-deadly problem.

Janine Underwood, executive director of the Bradley Free Clinic – which operates a monthly walk in no-questions asked service for those seeking help with opioid addiction – was on hand when the Foundation grant and Urgent Love were publicly announced at the Patrick Henry ballroom. “[Those] of us that have been affected and are trying to speak out, trying to get people to understand how massive this epidemic is,” said Underwood. This is also personal for her – she lost a son to a fatal heroin overdose.

“The resources are hard to find and the information is difficult to navigate through. Urgent Love is going to cut through all of that.” The walk in Bradley Free Clinic program is one of the resources Underwood hopes people are directed to.

The federally-funded Prevention Council of Roanoke County has focused on programs to discourage all sorts of abusive behaviors by youth in middle and high school, so this is sort of a next step. Executive director Nancy Hans will work with brand strategist Walt Boyle Jr. and filmmaker Steve Mason’s Red Velocity company to craft those videos they hope will make an impact.

Boyle met with Mason (the former WDBJ-7 sportscaster), who told him his wife’s cousin had just died after an opioid overdose. “It turned into a pretty heavy lunch … and we transitioned into what can we do about it?” The two had worked on projects before. They then recruited Hans and the Prevention Council of Roanoke County.

Mason says he wants to produce videos that are “piercing and really honest, authentic and raw – really communicate the message powerfully and effectively. These families have just suffered catastrophic losses. We’re going to hear their message [about] how bad this crisis is.”

Hans says Urgent Love and provides the ability “to put all of the resources in one place. It’s also visual and one to one. Addiction is a brain disease and not a moral failing. It starts to talk about this. We have to get this [information] out so that we can try to prevent this first off.”

Hans says there may be an offshoot in Lynchburg soon as more communities prepare to battle a crisis that kills around 180 people a day nationwide by one count.

Local governments, businesses, faith communities and others will be recruited for the Urgent Love effort says Hans: “we have continued every single year trying to get more people involved.” The Prevention Council created a heroin task force in 2012 – consider Urgent Love perhaps as the next step in a regional effort to stem what is also a national crisis.

Gene Marrano