Roanoke Valley organizations work together, combat substance abuse

October marks substance abuse awareness month in the United States

Substance abuse continues to be a growing problem in the Roanoke Valley

ROANOKE, Va. – “I didn’t start out as a kid thinking I wanted to be an addict. I actually wanted to be a superhero and save people and help people,” Roanoke Valley Collective Response director Niles Comer said.

Drug addiction was Comer’s reality for over a decade.

“When in the throw of addiction, it’s like the real me was trapped inside a cage screaming to get out, but the cage was running the show,” Comer said.

He’s not alone – Roanoke’s substance abuse numbers are alarming according to Roanoke and Alleghany Health District Director Dr. Cynthia Morrow.

“Roanoke has one of the highest rates of overdoses in the state,” Dr. Morrow said. “The trends are continuing to be concerning.”

The Roanoke Valley utilizes a collective response system when it comes to substance abuse.

“We need to come together,” Dr. Morrow said. “All of our community partners need to come together and that includes our law enforcement, our EMS, our first responders.”

This is where Comer comes in.

“My job is really to fly 40,000 ft. above the Roanoke Valley and take a view of what’s known as the recovery ecosystem,” Comer said. “Which is a system that involves from prevention to crisis intervention and harm reduction to treatment services.”

One way the Roanoke Valley is combating overdose deaths is with Narcan training.

“Carrying Narcan is not saying you accept someone’s substance use,” Comer said. “It’s saying ‘your life is worth it, let me help you live. And often times an opportunity where Narcan is dispensed is an opportunity for an intervention”

Comer and Dr. Morrow agree that to address substance abuse, you first need to address mental health.

“We’re asking law enforcement and paramedics and EMTs to be clinical therapists and that’s not their job,” Comer said.

”We know that substance abuse disorder and mental health are closely connected, and we have amazing services in our community, but we need more mental health services.” Dr. Morrow said.

If you or someone you know are struggling with substance abuse, visit the Roanoke Valley Collective Response website.

About the Author:

Abbie is a multimedia journalist finishing up her senior year at Virginia Tech. You can watch her report on weekday evenings.