‘It’s not just names on a wall.’ Roanoke’s Drop-In Center creates visual display for overdose deaths

Published: Nov. 12, 2021 at 6:58 PM EST
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - There are some new decorations on the back wall of the waiting room in the Williamson Road Drop-In Center.

Colorful, yet heartbreaking decorations.

“It’s sad, because we do care. That’s not just names on a wall, that’s a person,” said Lisa Via, the comprehensive harm reduction coordinator for the center.

On each mask, a name is written for a person who lost his or her life to a drug overdose in Roanoke this year. There are 65.

“65 people that was someone’s brother or mother or sister or child, are gone. We’ve had two in our program pass away,” said Via.

The second location of the Drop-In Center, serving those in the north part of the city, has been open just under two years and currently has 460 participants.

In February of this year, there were only 115 participants. While these men and women may not come into the center regularly, they’ve used the center’s services which include free HIV and Hepatitis C testing, Narcan, harm reduction materials, and a syringe exchange.

“The ‘not in my backyard’ deal doesn’t happen because it happens in your backyard. It happens next door, it happens in the parking lot at the grocery store, it happens everywhere,” said Via.

While COVID-19 is attributed by the Virginia Department of Health and health departments across the country as a cause for increased drug use and overdoses, Via says fentanyl is to blame in the Star City.

“It’s in meth, it’s in pressed pills that look like Xanax bars. it’s in pressed pills that look like opioids that you get from your doctor. And if you’re used to doing a huge amount of methamphetamine, and it’s cut with fentanyl, you think you’re getting the methamphetamine when in reality you’re getting over 50 percent cut with fentanyl,” explained Via.

Fentanyl can be detected with test strips, but Narcan is the only thing proven to actually stop an overdose.

The medicine is what Virginia Tech doctorate student Frankie Edwards is spending the next few years researching.

“We know that it can treat an overdose and rescue someone from the flip side of that, which is death,” said Edwards, who compares the need for Narcan for drug users to the need for Epi Pens for people with allergies.

But Edwards and Via say that need extends to non-drug users too.

“Everybody needs to know how to use Narcan. Whether you believe in it or not. You could save somebody’s life.”

Last year across the United States, there were 93,000 deaths from overdoses. That’s more than the number of people it takes to fill Lane Stadium at Virginia Tech and Williams Stadium at Liberty University.

If you’re interested in getting Narcan or learning how to use it, click here.

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