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Leaders in Virginia Beach want the public to be more aware of a program to help those addicted to drugs

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Posted at 4:07 PM, Sep 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-09 17:42:19-04

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - September is National Recovery Month, and city leaders in Virginia Beach want the public to be more aware about a program that aims to help people who are addicted to drugs.

It’s called the First Step Program. City leaders have been working on this program for about three years, and News 3 first told you about it in April.

People struggling with addiction can ask a police officer or go to a precinct for help without concern about getting into trouble.

However, they could be arrested if they have outstanding warrants.

Carolyn Weems' daughter, Caitlyn, overdosed from drugs eight years ago. Now, Carolyn works as an advocate.

She also started the nonprofit Caitlyn’s Halo.

She said it was awful to get that knock at the door from police.

“My heart just exploded. It didn’t break - it exploded and shattered into a million pieces,” said Weems.

She said she knows how tough it can be to find help with recovery.

“With my daughter, Caitlyn, I know so many times the doors were closed with a hospital or treatment centers,” said Weems.

Virginia Beach Officer Curtis Honaker recently responded to a call and learned that the woman was desperately trying to get into rehab.

“She said she had called six or seven different rehabs all the way down to North Carolina but couldn’t afford any of them,” said Officer Honaker. “I literally remembered an email that came out about this program, First Step.”

He said he got on the phone and connected her with the right people, and she was able to get into a facility.

The Virginia Beach Police Department and the Virginia Beach Commonwealth Attorney’s Office just released a PSA in an effort to encourage more people to take advantage of this program.

“We hope to get more people and we want to help as many people as we can,” said Colin Stolle, the Virginia Beach Commonwealth's Attorney. “As a law enforcement agency here in Virginia Beach, we’re not interested in arresting you for your addiction - we’re interested in getting you the help you need.”

Officer Honaker took action and helped the first person in this program.

He said, “It is satisfying to be able to help somebody get the help that they need right there and then.”

Over the last year, opioid deaths have doubled in the City of Virginia Beach. The problem has increased in Hampton Roads and across the country.

“The pandemic has only made it worse. The number of overdoses and people suffering from addiction has just skyrocketed over the course of the pandemic,” said Stolle.

Weems praised this new program and wants more people to use it in hopes of preventing more deaths and helping more addicts.

“It’s just the most difficult thing, and if you haven’t been through it, you’ll never understand it,” said Weems.

Here is information sent out about the program:

Chief Paul W. Neudigate urges those fighting an opioid addiction to seek help through The First Step Program. Data from the first quarter of 2021 shows the largest number of fatal drug overdoses ever seen in Virginia, according to the Virginia Department of Health. Law enforcement amps up its support for recovery by providing a safe place for residents in need of treatment for addiction.

A Public Service Announcement shows viewers that police precincts are safe, simple places to start a journey to recovery. When a resident arrives and asks for help with his or her addiction, police will initiate a screening by the Department of Human Services (Pathways Center) or Virginia Beach Psychiatric Center. After a free assessment, the resident may be transported (voluntarily) by police for medical detox or referred for another level of support or care.

Police do not want to arrest those experiencing opioid abuse disorder; rather, want to provide an alternative to incurring a criminal charge or suffering an overdose. While the goal of the program is to provide an alternative to criminal charges, if active warrants exist, those warrants must be served on individuals who appear at a police precinct. If, after being served, an individual is still open to treatment and not taken into custody, they may participate in The First Step Program.

“The First Step Program provides residents with a simple process for seeking help with addiction,” Stolle said. “The impact of mental health and substance use disorders is apparent in the criminal justice system and remains one of the greatest challenges for law enforcement and the courts. I hope that members of the community will take advantage of this partnership.”

“I recognize the need to connect people suffering from addiction with treatment and other services to address the burden of substance abuse disorders,” Neudigate said. “The Virginia Beach Police Department wants to be supportive to those seeking help, and we truly want to see these individuals receive the treatment they need, without fear of being arrested. Helping to facilitate access to such vital treatment can save lives and will be a benefit to the community.”

The Public Service Announcement, created by Virginia Beach’s Multimedia Services division, will air on local television channels and online throughout the remainder of the year.

Specific information about the location for treatment, Frequently Asked Questions, and resources are available on the program’s website. For 24/7 crisis assistance, please call the Pathways Center at (757) 385-6956 or Virginia Beach Psychiatric Center (757) 627-LIFE (5433), and you will receive a free, confidential assessment.

Below are a list of police station locations in Virginia Beach:

  • ​2509 Princess Anne Rd.
  • 926 Independence Blvd.
  • 5152 Lobaugh Dr.
  • 820 Virginia Beach Blvd.