The Deep Blue Ridge: Roanoke man’s personal experience with opioid crisis fuels his fight against drug abuse

Neal’s family member has been clean for more than a decade and that loved one’s strength inspires him to keep fighting

A Roanoke man hopes his personal experience of witnessing addiction in his family will emphasize a different perspective of what drug abuse looks like to raise awareness for others.

ROANOKE, Va. – A Roanoke man hopes his personal experience of witnessing addiction in his family will emphasize a different perspective of what drug abuse looks like to raise awareness for others.

Adam Neal is the Director of the Roanoke Area Youth Substance Abuse Coalition.


“We are a grassroots grant-funded coalition of like-minded people and organizations who tackle hard issues of substance abuse,” Neal said. “We educate on that topic using evidence-based programs that really work with kids and teach them everything we can as far as the evolving front of drugs and substance abuse in our area.”

RAYSAC has been around for about 30 years, but Neal has been involved with the organization for just a few years.

His mission is to raise awareness about the misconceptions surrounding drug abuse.

“If we are able to reach kids and give them the information that is true and factual, we can beat a lot of those generational misconceptions and ideas out there,” Neal said. “This kind of new epidemic of drug misuse is coming from places that are not shady dealers in alleyways. It is coming from well-meaning families sharing medication; it is coming from well-meaning doctors prescribing pain medications that may be overprescribed.”

Unfortunately, Neal’s experience stems from the latter.

“I had close family members that were over-prescribed medicines that really affected them,” Neal said. “We were taught to trust exactly what the doctor said and what they gave you and to take everything. Sometimes, the doctors were well-meaning, but it affected my entire family because we had to deal with seeing family members just zombified.”

He said it impacted him greatly growing up.

Adam Neal as a young child (WSLS)

“When you are growing up and as you are developing, you feel hopeless in a way witnessing that,” Neal said. “I felt I didn’t know what was happening. I thought it was the illness they were dealing with and not what was actually happening. I felt completely helpless watching that person being not there emotionally in their mind. Dealing with that addiction made them absent in the family.”

Fortunately, that family member, who we are not identifying for the purpose of privacy reasons, came to the realization that it was time to change in life.

“They dealt with it a lot themselves with good willpower and fortunately, they were able to overcome it by seeing how it affected their children in a pretty miraculous amount of time,” Neal said. “We know how long and just how much addiction can really ravage someone. I am blessed to say I have a fortunate story with a good outcome.”

That happy change came at the right time for Neal.

“I was like 12 or 13 years old and this whole situation really made me in those developing years turning into a teen,” he said. “That family member was able to be present for a lot of the stuff that I was involved with. They knew some of those years had been lost when I was a smaller child and they wanted to make up for it.”

His relationship with that family member became stronger.

“It showed me that they cared for me and that they were still there,” Neal said. “I was able to make an emotional change and continue on with my life and move on because they were able to make that change and get their life back and they were able to care for themselves responsibly and care for us as well.”

That family member has been recovered for more than a decade and during that time, Neal fully understood his passion in life.

Adam Neal during a presentation (WSLS)

“I got into the Blue Ridge Behavioral Healthcare when I moved to Roanoke about five years ago,” Neal said. “I’ve always wanted to work for a nonprofit and community service board. I got into prevention and wellness services, and I started off working with doing drug prevention for kids in the area for elementary school.”

That is when Neal moved up into working with RAYSAC.

“I will admit, in my early 20s, I had the same kind of substance issues, and I think sometimes that can happen in those years,” Neal said. “But growing up and becoming a family man and learning about the birth of my daughter changed me. Really, it was first meeting my wife, but I understood the importance of growing and educating the future, and I want to do it the right way. Kids are our future.”

Adam Neal and his wife with their unborn baby girl (WSLS)
Adam Neal with his newborn baby girl (WSLS)

Neal said even as the opioid epidemic increases, fearmongering is never the answer.

“We are not trying to scare people or hit the panic button,” Neal said. “We are here to help people make decisions that can improve their lives like decisions that helped improve my life so long ago.”

He said drugs can vary from generation to generation.

“The big addiction now with teens is vaping, which is a huge thing,” Neal said. “With young adults, that generational change is when someone is comfortable with using pain meds from others. That habit will continue as they grow up and have those same addiction issues and that can lead to generational trauma that can affect the person following in that same path.”

An example of this happens with our older relatives, according to Neal.

“We all grew up with a grandma who had extra pills in her purse and when you had a headache, she would give you something in a well-meaningful way to help, but it starts with prescription drugs through family members or over-the-counter drugs from the doctor,” Neal said.

Neal said his ultimate goal while working with RAYSAC is to have no more overdoses in the city again.

“We would love to see us battle this opioid crisis in the area,” Neal said. “I would love to see people walking around with life-saving devices like naloxone. We would also love to have people dispose of their medicines properly.”

Neal and his organization host several events annually, like community engagement presentations and drug-take-back events.

Drug-take-back event (WSLS)

He said because of their efforts, more families are getting involved with the discussion about opioid addiction, educating kids from within the home on ways to avoid drug use.

While he strives for his goal, he encourages others to take up for themselves when saying no to drugs.

“If you are a teen or young adult, it is up to you to take up for your own health and be educated and learn about the stuff you are taking,” Neal said. “Make those choices on yourself.”

He also said to seek help for others if you see someone struggling with addiction.

“Make sure you know that you are not betraying someone if you are trying to get them help,” Neal said. “If you see them going down these routes, talk to someone. Find someone who will talk to you. There are teen crisis hotlines and text lines. There is always place like the Blue Ridge Behavior Health Care. We want those people to want to help themselves and that is not always the case but reaching out to help that person is a good first step.

Neal said they have a couple upcoming events like a virtual Legislators Roundtable for local and state leaders to discuss the Fentanyl Crisis on September 16, 2022 from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.

A Drug-Take-Back event is scheduled for October 29, 2022 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. You can visit for a list of drop-off locations.

Also if you would like to see how you can become a volunteer with the organization, fill out a form on their website.

If you know someone who has a story or if you would like to share your story, contact me directly:


Social Media: Japhanie Gray WSLS 10 News

Phone: 540-512-1555

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Japhanie Gray joined 10 News as an anchor in March 2022.