Warrenton and Fauquier County officials are taking a deep dive into the area’s opioid-addiction crisis to determine what local government can and should do to help those struggling with substance-use disorders.
The Warrenton Town Council and the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors have announced a joint working group comprised of elected officials as well as representatives of the McShin Foundation, the PATH Foundation and the regional Rappahannock-Rapidan Community Services Board.
The group has planned a four-hour retreat on the topic set for noon to 4 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 16, at the Warren Green Building in downtown Warrenton. The meeting is open to the public for observation.
Ahead of the meeting, the group is collecting a lot of facts and figures aimed at shedding light on the extent of the local crisis.
Among other things, the group has tasked county staff with compiling numbers on:
- local convictions related to opioid abuse;
- opioid overdoses occurring in Fauquier County in each of the past five years;
- Fauquier County residents who have sought help from the regional community services board and its Boxwood Recovery Center, which offers a 28-day residential treatment program in Culpeper.
- the various kinds of treatment services available in Fauquier County.
Supervisor Chris Granger (Center), who is serving on the group, said the intent is to assess the extent to which county services are already being tapped to deal with the opioid problem -- everything from calls to the sheriff’s office to time spent in local courtrooms.
“We’re trying to understand the scope of the problem because a lot of these services fall under the county’s purview, and we want to figure out where the gaps are,” Granger said.
The working group was announced in the days following the Warrenton Town Council’s unanimous vote Jan. 9 to deny a special-use permit to allow the Richmond-based McShin Foundation to operate a 28-day residential recovery program at the “Rider” building, 30 John Marshall St., in downtown Warrenton.
McShin has rented the building since August for 12-step meetings, counseling sessions and yoga classes for recovering addicts, including those transitioning out of the Fauquier County jail.
At the invitation of Sheriff Bob Mosier, McShin counselors have been offering an addiction-recovery program in the jail last April, which now serves 20 inmates, 10 women and 10 men, said Chris Connell, McShin’s Warrenton director for community outreach.
Warrenton town councilmembers said they could not approve the permit to allow McShin to add a residential program at the Rider building because its “central business district” zoning does not allow people to live on the first floors of commercial buildings.
About three weeks before the vote, the Fauquier County supervisors announced a surprise move to purchase the Rider building for future county office space. The county had long been interested in the building and had rented its parking lot for years. The supervisors quietly voted to purchase the building for $650,000 in mid-December and announced shortly thereafter the county would honor McShin’s lease as well as whatever the town council decided about the permit for a residential-treatment program.
When the council denied the permit, both the county and town leaders promised to find a more suitable location for such a program and tasked the joint working group with suggesting possible solutions.
Warrenton Mayor Powell Duggan, who lost a son to an overdose in 2015, said he wanted to be personally involved in the effort. Duggan also asked Councilman Jerry Wood (Ward 1) to join him in representing the town. Wood is a retired pharmacist whom Duggan said he knew to be particularly sympathetic to those suffering from addiction.
“My personal experience translates into some knowledge about the treatments available,” Duggan said. “This has been my life for a while. I can ask some good questions and hopefully help find an approach that fits our community.”
The mayor said he sees value in a range of options to help those struggling with addiction, including hospital-based detox centers, the Boxwood facility in Culpeper and the McShin Foundation model, which offers longer-term sober-living housing bolstered by peer-to-peer support from counselors also in recovery.
Duggan noted that residential treatment can be costly and is sometimes out of reach for those without health insurance, which makes the McShin model an important part of the mix.
“McShin seems to cost less and has a pretty good track record of helping people out,” Duggan said.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Chris Butler (Lee) will represent the county along with Granger. Butler stressed that the county never intended to force the McShin Foundation from the Rider building and will honor the nonprofit’s existing lease as well as an extension until a more suitable location can be found.
Butler said he hopes to learn as much as possible by participating in the working group.
“There’s obviously an issue in this county. … I know something has to be done,” Butler said. “We need to look at solutions, but I need an education on it.”
The county is committed to finding a long-term location for McShin, Granger said.
“We’re not going to say it’s not our responsibility. That’s why we’re doing this,” Granger added. “At the end of all of this, McShin is going to have a new building. That’s my prediction. It’s all going to work out. There’s a lot of positive stuff going on, and it’s going to move pretty quick.”
Reach Jill Palermo at firstname.lastname@example.org