Virginia-based van, training targets opioid overdoses

Overdose Deaths
Posted at 11:00 PM, Jul 09, 2022

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. (AP) — No parent wants the words “in memory of” listed in front of their child’s name, but Angela Pope hopes a vehicle dedicated to her daughter will save other families from the pain hers experienced.

Lauren Pope was 26 when she died after snorting heroin laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid and powerful painkiller. Police told her parents, Angela and Jake Pope of Spotsylvania County, that it looked like someone left her in a bathroom by the way the young woman was positioned.

Had she received Narcan, a nasal spray to reverse the effects of opioid overdoses, Angela Pope wonders if her firstborn would still be alive. She often thinks about the way her daughter’s life ended, as well as how things changed dramatically in her mid-teens.

The once-bubbly and busy runner and cheerleader was about 15 when her mother said she fell into the wrong crowd and started using drugs. An unwanted pregnancy and abortion followed, and her mother suspects possible sex trafficking or gang violence. But she just doesn’t know because months would pass without a word from her child.

“I sit and dwell on it,” she said, “and there’s nothing that’s going to change the situation so I have to try to do something positive with it.”

The Popes said they were honored when Zoe Freedom Center, a faith-based recovery program in Spotsylvania, recently launched a Mobile Harm Reduction Unit, or “Narcan van,” in memory of Lauren Pope. Lauren was the first client at Zoe, and co-founder Dana Brown helped get her into a recovery program.

After Brown spoke at her funeral, she and her husband, Mark, the center’s co-founder, talked about a mobile unit that would regularly dispense boxes of Narcan to individuals and businesses. The Browns promised the Popes it would bear Lauren’s name.

The Narcan van made its début on a recent Saturday as Zoe Freedom Center volunteers met in Fredericksburg and canvassed the downtown area, passing out goodie bags and materials about the center’s free services, including counseling and peer support groups. They also asked people if they would put Narcan in their first-aid kits.

Some businesses wanted a box for each kit in the building, others declined the offer. The center plans to return to downtown, visit hotels along U.S. 1 and set up regular routes and distribution times when it has enough volunteers.

Based on past experience, Dana Brown believes the same divine guidance that helped Zoe get off the ground—a month before the pandemic started—will get their mobile unit out on a regular course.

“I feel like we’re gonna have enough volunteers to do at least a once-a-week route, probably within a month,” she said. “We’re excited about being able to meet the needs on a routed, time-based schedule so people in the community who need our help know when we’re coming.”

And there’s plenty of need, said Sherry Norton–Williams, a prevention specialist with the Rappahannock Area Community Services Board. For five years, she’s led REVIVE! training on how to recognize and respond to an opioid emergency using Narcan, the brand name for the chemical naloxone.

RACSB offers regular virtual trainings and twice-a-month distributions when people who’ve completed the class can pick up free Narcan. More than 2,000 people have been through the program since 2017—including many who then trained others—and Norton–Williams has noticed an increase this year in the demand for Narcan.

In the past, maybe half of those trained picked up their Narcan at a separate distribution site. This year, more than 8 of every 10 people trained have gotten it.

“We are seeing more lives being lost,” Norton–Williams said, not because there are necessarily more drugs on the street but because of what they contain. “It’s about fentanyl being in everything or possibly being in everything. People are realizing the medicine cabinet is not necessarily the problem. It’s the illicit substance people are getting their hands on.”

Last year, 81% of the fatal overdoses in the Fredericksburg region, from Culpeper to the Northern Neck, involved fentanyl, according to the Virginia Department of Health website. The state hasn’t reported any 2022 statistics yet, but Dana Brown said she’s hearing about increasing numbers of overdoses from local police officers.

While in her office off Bragg Road, Brown showed a graphic from the Journal of American Medical Association, showing the number of fatalities involving fentanyl among adolescents. Nationwide, 253 young people between the ages of 10 and 19 died in 2019 from overdoses involving fentanyl. The death toll climbed to 680 in 2020 and shot up to 884 in 2021.

Brown believes many of those who overdosed probably thought they were getting something else from a friend, maybe Adderall or Percocet. Adderall is used to treat hyperactivity but has become widely misused by high school and college students who want to pull all-nighters and cram for exams or write lengthy term papers, according to American Addiction Centers.

Likewise, Percocet is a common pain pill, but can become lethal when laced with fentanyl.

“That’s starting to happen more and more,” Dana Brown said. “This is why (Narcan) is so important. Having this in your first-aid kit will give you the only tool that you can possibly have to save your child’s life.”

Norton–Williams hopes people who receive Narcan will never need to use the treatment on loved ones but she often finds the opposite is true.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a person walk up to a table at an event or pick up a second dose” because they already used the first one or it had expired, she said. “I had one gentleman in a training program who’s overdosed seven times.”

She’s trained workers in local shelters, convenience stores and national parks on how to administer Narcan. The free online class, REVIVE!, takes about 60 minutes, and Norton–Williams and others at RACSB will offer training to businesses and organizations. Those interested can contact her at 540/940-2325 or