Dozens of nonprofit, government, and business representatives gathered at the Loudoun County School Administration Building on Thursday morning for a summit on teen wellness, substance abuse, and behavioral health.
The summit, organized by the Community Foundation for Loudoun and Northern Fauquier Counties, included talks and forums on topics ranging from racism, to difficulties getting an accurate census under reduced funding, to behavioral health and substance abuse. The sessions were led by leaders from nonprofits and community organizations like the Community Foundation, the Ryan Bartel Foundation, Loudoun County Public Schools, Inova Health Systems and StoneSprings Hospital Center; HealthWorks for Northern Virginia; and the county Department of Mental Health Substance Abuse, and Developmental Services, among others.
The event was capped off with a keynote address by Jim Freund, the state chairman of the Addiction Policy Forum. Freund, a technology executive, was driven to lead the conversation around substance abuse disorder after losing his son, Scott, after a prolonged battle with drug addiction. Scott died two days before his 21st birthday, leaving a message for his family: “I just can’t stand being in my own mind. It’s torture and it hurts. I’ve tried for years to get help, but nothing works.”
Freund said his son first started using drugs as he entered high school, and went through a prolonged process of treatment and recovery. The family enjoyed a year of a half of health before Scott relapsed.
“I wish I knew then what I now know,” Freund said. “Because I believe I might have been able to save my son.”
Freund talked about the wide variety of drugs young people may encounter today, ranging from marijuana to synthetic opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil—the latter said to be a hundred times more potent than fentanyl, and five thousand times more powerful than heroin. Carfentanil can be deadly at 0.02 milligrams—a speck no larger than a grain of sand—and federal law enforcement and defense officials have spoken of its danger as a possible chemical weapon of war or terrorism.
Freund said 174 people die each day in the U.S. from drug overdoses. Coupled with suicide and alcohol—which he said are related—more than 200 people a day are dying.
“If we lost an airplane today, and we lost 200 people on that plane, then tomorrow we lost another plane with 200 people on it, and then the next day we lost another place with 200 people—wouldn’t we be grounding our fleet and trying to figure out what’s going?” Freund said. “But unfortunately this is so wide-spread, it knows no boundaries.”
He pointed out his organization’s website, AddictionResourceCenter.org, which is meant to be a centralized portal for people concerned about substance use in themselves or a loved one.
The summit closed with a short address from Patricia Mathews, the first president and CEO of the Northern Virginia Health Foundation, which was founded in 2005. She pointed to the large disparities in Loudoun’s wealth, and encouraged the gathered organizations—which spanned over a variety of fields—to cooperate across disciplines.
“Working together in your silos is not working together,” Mathews said. “80 percent of what makes you sick has nothing to do with health and healthcare.