ROANOKE, Va. – The Roanoke Valley will be getting a new tool to continue to fight against the opioid epidemic.
Local and state leaders met at the Roanoke County Public Safety Center Monday afternoon for the announcement. They said data being more available is the next step in fighting the crisis.
Gov. Ralph Northam believes the problem of addiction is the largest challenge facing Virginia.
"The numbers are alarming and while we are making progress we still have a lot of work to do," Northam said.
$1.6 million from the federal government will fund the high-tech program. It will help agencies including law enforcement, first responders, medical providers, social services, public safety, corrections departments, drug courts and other local groups -- who aren't all sharing their data -- get the lines of communication flowing.
"Having this data is just so important so that we have a baseline and know where we need more work and where we're making progress," Northam said.
The data could give insight into what contributes to opioid abuse, the most effective ways to respond and trends geographically or among age groups. It can even show the specific neighborhoods where use is high.
Nancy Hans, the director of the Roanoke County Prevention Council, said Monday is also a chance to celebrate the work of the HOPE Initiative, which has had 400 people pass through its doors, and other local grassroots efforts over the last six years.
"The stigma is really starting to lift a little bit. We have a lot more people being able to talk about this and share what's happened," Hans said.
The first program of this kind has been in the northern Shenandoah Valley for two years.
"The great thing is that we get to learn the lessons from there and all of the data that's happening there," Hans said.
The data-sharing will help agencies track the use of other drugs as well.
"We know that there's fentanyl still here. We know there is cocaine rising. We know that there is huge amounts of meth. So how do we use these strategies and gather the data, because sometimes there may be different strategies for different substances," Hans said.
Leaders said the Roanoke Valley has to continue to not simply look the other way when it comes to addiction.