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‘Raw’ film on heroin addiction screened at Highland Friday

Tuesday, May. 24 | By Michael Melkonian
John Waldeck of the Mental Health Association of Fauquier responds to questions and comments during the panel session. Photo by Michael Melkonian.
On Friday, May 20 , at 1 p.m. in the Highland School auditorium, over 100 people affected by the deadly opioid epidemic in Fauquier met to watch a movie on the subject and talk about solutions.

“Chasing the Dragon” was made by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Agency. The film's graphic first-person accounts of addiction and death were meant to be used as an early prevention and intervention tool for teens in schools.

“It is raw, it was intended to be impactful,” said one of the film’s creators, Supervisory Special Agent Jeff Thornburg of the FBI.

The film was meant to grab students' attentions so they are aware of the dangers of addiction. When he first showed the film to his wife she was amazed at how dark it was, he said.

“There is no happy ending here,” Thornburg said. “This is not a Disney movie and that was not the intent.”

Following the film, a panel of health professionals and drug enforcement agents took questions from the audience.

Mike Higgins, with a 21-year -old son in jail, said he knows his son is safe now while locked up, but was outspoken about the need for a community action plan.

“There’s no coordinated effort,” Higgins said.

Every time addiction cripples a new family it’s like the first time, he said, nobody knows where to turn for answers. He would like to see some sort of drug intervention program, like DARE, back in schools.

“You guys have been doing something and it’s not working,” Higgins said. “My kid’s in jail right now and I am losing. And I am probably going to lose him.”

Dr. David Jeck, Fauquier County Public School superintendent, said he's going to keep working with the Sheriff's Office to look for answers inside the school.

“That film was daunting,” Jeck said.

Knowing the addictive and deadly pills driving the epidemic are in medicine cabinets everywhere is scary. he added. Any solutions will require a holistic, community approach.

One panelist, Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Karl Colder, responded saying community leaders and parents should take the initiative instead of waiting for others to tackle the issue.

“Your kids, at 13 years old, understand what’s going on,” Colder said. “Adults have to wake up.”

As law enforcement, it’s our job to connect the dots and try to fix the problem, according to Colder. But when you have the whole community network here in one room and moving together, you need to create these solutions for yourselves instead of waiting for government programs to step in, he said.

Capt. Ray Acors of the FCSO said one issue is that the flow of government money has stagnated. State and federal substance abuse treatment funding funneled through the Rappahannock Rapidan Community Services Board that serves Fauquier and four surrounding counties has remained the same for many years: $96,171 per year.

The RRCSB said that only equates to about $8,000 a month, which isn't enough to fund three people for seven days of detox and a month of residential treatment.

Fauquier Delegate Michael Webert (R-18th) said the discussion needs to start earlier: schools are busy teaching history and science, “but we also have to teach them about life.”

And after hearing funding concerns, the delegate said advocates need to reach out to him and representatives at every level with specific requests.

“Our community is facing this head on and it’s encouraging,” Webert said.

But in order for the money to make the biggest impact, he needs to be able to advocate for certain organizations or projects in Richmond.

Acors helped launch the Travis Project to battle the opioid epidemic in Fauquier. The Travis Project, along with the Mental Health Association of Fauquier and addiction support groups, helped bring this film to Fauquier County.

The Travis Project began by equipping deputies with life-saving overdose-reversal drug Naloxone, The nasal spray has already been used twice this year by Fauquier deputies to save the lives of overdosing drug users.

“After we started using Naloxone, we said what now?” Acors said

Acors said he was disturbed by one person who overdosed within hours of being released from jail. The group is now looking to start a rehabilitation project in the Adult Detention Center to ensure addicted inmates get the help they need.

“We learned right then that we could do more,” Acors said.

With four overdoses in the past two weeks in Fauquier County, the community is still struggling for solutions to the deadly opiate epidemic. Acors said he wants to provide a car to take exiting inmates straight from jail to rehab centers if they need it – instead of going right back to the people and places that got them into trouble to begin with.

“If we don’t break the cycle it’s going to keep happening,” Acors said. “We keep arresting, but we’re not making a difference.”

Watch "Chasing the Dragon" online here. Warning: this film contains graphic scenes and language.

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