ROANOKE, Va. - The effort to help people in our region of Virginia battle the opioid epidemic continues.
A Roanoke veteran is trying to help service members struggling with addiction by starting a charity.
Jeff Fisher, a 26-year-old, wants to use the money raised to start a support group focusing on opioid addiction at a location like a veterans hospital.
His motivation comes from tragedy. His brother and two of his friends have died of opioid overdoses. The most recent death was just nine days ago.
Fisher wants to talk to veterans about their problems and convince them that drugs are not a good choice to cope.
“You have to get them help. It's hard because they're not going to want to listen to you. They're going to keep telling you, ‘I'm fine. I'm fine,’” he said. “Even if I just change one person's life, that's all I really want to do.”
He’s working on getting the charity to official nonprofit status. He’s given it the name Upholding Valor.
He’s started a GoFundMe page and he’s working on more ideas to raise money.
“My main goal is to just raise awareness for veteran mental health in general,” Fisher said.
He said service men and women face unique challenges, saying there’s a contrast between the strict discipline military members face while serving and the freedom they face when they leave. He said many veterans feel they can tackle the problems they face by themselves.
“It's really easy to just keep stuff bottled up and contained and not really let other people know what's going on,” he said. “You may not know that they're dealing with something but they have a lot of demons on the inside.”
He served for four years in the Air Force, spending time stationed in New Mexico. He said the military does teach drug awareness but he wishes more veterans understood the consequences.
For the three people close to him who died, pills were the beginning of their battle with addiction and heroin was at the end. He said he worries that veterans who are prescribed pain medication could have an easy road to future addiction.
The three loved ones he lost were good friends with each other but got hooked on opioids separately -- at different times in different places. In fact, Fisher said five people who went to his high school in North Carolina, all of whom were friends with one another, died separately from opioid abuse after graduating.
His brother, Shell Fisher, died of a heroin overdose in 2015 at the age of 21, just months before the birth of his son. Fisher said his brother got a bad batch of fentanyl from a dealer in Roanoke.
One of Fisher’s military friends died about a year after that, and then another died Sept. 23. Fisher said that was the final push for him to take action.
He said he wants to lead the support groups himself.
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