Roanoke program leading the way for substance abuse support in Virginia

Published: Aug. 31, 2023 at 6:10 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Several organizations are coming together to expand the resources available in the Commonwealth to help save lives.

Overdoses and their deadly consequences claim thousands of lives each year in Virginia.

“In 2015 my son Bobby died of drug overdose,” said Janine Underwood.

Underwood is Bradley Free Clinic’s Executive Director. She’s using her pain and love for Bobby to help others fight substance abuse disorders.

“After his death, I heard about this project, the angel project, that the police department was starting,” added Underwood. “I went to the meeting as a mom who has lost her son and that basically was the beginning of the Hope Initiative.”

The Hope Initiative started in 2018 and now has 5 peer recovery specialists who have all gone through similar experiences. The program sees almost 450 individuals a year seeking help with recovery.

“Food, housing insecurity, or any of those social determinants of health, that’s what the Hope Initiative is there, to help them get the resources that they need,” explained Underwood.

The Virginia Department of Health reports that 2619 people died from drug overdoses last year.

“It’s very important to remember that any life can be touched by substance abuse disorder, can be touched by addiction, and can be touched by an overdose death,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Karen Shelton. “So, it’s really important that we talk about it. And that we link them to care.”

That is why the Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation is donating a $500,000 grant to the Virginia Association of Free and Charitable Clinics. The money will help other areas replicate the Hope Initiative program. The Health Wagon will be the first clinic to launch the program using the grant.

“The recovery relapse rates have reduced drastically since they’ve put this program in place and so this grant is going to be able to extend that program across other clinics in the state,” said Anthem HealthKeepers Plus President Jennie Reynolds. “So, we’re going to reach more Virginians.”

For Underwood, saving one life or helping someone when they need is a tribute to Bobby.

“I know that Bobby’s watching,” said Underwood. “I know that he’s proud of the program.”

To date, the Hope Initiative has helped over 2,000 participants find treatment and resources.