Faith and government leaders joined medical professionals and victims of the opioid epidemic in Leesburg on Tuesday evening to mark International Overdose Awareness Day four days ahead of its official date.
Faith leaders and family members of those lost to overdoses led the event with reflections on their experiences and what is needed to help those still struggling with addiction. Those included Beth Baldwin, whose son Phil died of an overdose after years of addiction and rehab.
In 2017, after his seventh trip to rehab, and only five days after his 23rd birthday, Phil died of an overdose at a rehab center in Florida. He had accidentally overdosed on Carfentanil, a much more powerful heroin analogue.
“Phil was the most amazing kid,” Baldwin said. “He was funny. He made our entire family laugh for hours. He was our child who could joke and laugh and love more than anybody in our family, but he suffered from anxiety and depression, and mental health was his problem, and he could not get help.”
Although she took him to many psychiatrists, she said, Phil could not find the help he needed. Marijuana and alcohol helped him get through high school. But one day, he found an old Vicodin in the medicine cabinet from Baldwin’s C-section giving birth to Phil’s younger sister.
“I didn’t need it, I didn’t even think about it,” Baldwin said. “That’s what started him on the road to opioids and narcotics—my medicine cabinet.”
Among her other activism, Baldwin now teaches how to use Narcan to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose for the Atwood Foundation—a program called REVIVE!, which is free to attend and which the Loudoun County government hosts regularly.
Others, like Leesburg Police Deputy Chief Vanessa Grigsby and Phil Erickson of the Loudoun County Department of Mental Health, Substance Abuse and Developmental Services, were there to talk about some of the tools and programs that have been deployed to counter the opioid epidemic—such as distributing Narcan, drug disposal drop-offs, education, and advancements in rehab. Alison Burton, an emergency room nurse specializing in confronting the opioid epidemic, said hospital staff have changed both their practices and attitudes in response.
“We’re now able to have open discussions in our department with the patients,” Burton said. “We’re no longer hiding form the subject. For the future, we recognize that recovery doesn’t start until these patients are connected with addiction treatment right away.”
All Dulles Area Muslim Society board Chairman Rizwan Jaka said that “God will test us many times, in many different ways, but we will be judged on how we respond,” commending Baldwin for setting the example.
“God tells us, that if he wanted to create us the same, he would have,” Jaka said. “But he created us different so we can compete in good deeds. So we will compete in good deeds to counter the challenges we are facing.”
After the speeches, members of the Leesburg Town Council led a candlelight procession to Mervin Jackson Park.
International Overdose Awareness Day is held annually on Aug. 31.