VA group sets record straight on substance-use disorder
Monday, October 16, 2023
During National Substance Abuse Prevention Month, a Virginia group is working to help those dealing with substance abuse.
The state's Department of Health reported deaths from drug overdoses rose 29% between 2020 and 2021. Virginia increased its investment in substance-abuse services to almost $3.5 million in the 2024 budget, up from around $2 million in the previous budget.
Victor McKenzie Jr., executive director of the Substance Abuse and Addiction Recovery Alliance of Virginia, said once the stigmas surrounding addiction are gone, additional resources will follow.
"So many people think of addiction as a moral failing versus a complex disease that it is," McKenzie stressed. "When we can break down that stigma and treat (substance use disorder) as a disease, that means we will lead with resources first. And judgment and punitive response, we will move that out of the way."
He pointed out some unexplored areas of substance abuse are how interconnected it is to other issues such as homelessness and mental health. The state's Department of Housing and Community Development finds 14% of the state's homeless population in 2021 were dealing with substance use disorder.
While challenges dog the path for bolstering substance use disorder services, McKenzie noted misconceptions are just as plentiful. Aside from the notion willpower is all it takes to beat addiction, he emphasized another misconception is what people think substance use disorder looks like.
"It happens to our family members and people we don't even expect," McKenzie observed. "That high school football player that got hurt but was overly prescribed some opioids to deal with the pain. It could be that friend who's drinking at 11 o'clock on a Tuesday."
Substance and drug use has been on the rise for youths, not only in Virginia but across the U.S. The latest America's Health Rankings report showed 7% of the state's youths have used drugs in the past month, slightly under the national average of 8%.
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