Virginia Launches Website, App to Fight Heroin and Prescription Opioid Use

The campaign evolved from a local Gloucester, Va., program to a statewide initiative. The website offers testimonials from people affected by drug addiction, and an interactive map helps visitors find hospitals, treatment centers and support meetings.

by Frances Hubbard, Daily Press (Newport News, Va.) / May 5, 2016

(TNS) -- A new website and app designed to help in the state's fight against prescription drug abuse was announced Wednesday by Gloucester's Emergency Management office.

"Every community has the potential for drug abuse to be a problem," said Jane Wenner, Gloucester's emergency management outreach coordinator. "Our goal is for people to know there is a resource out there and that the state of Virginia really cares."

The "Sink or Swim" campaign was presented to the Governor's Task Force on Prescription Drug and Heroin Abuse in Richmond.

"This is a great tool folks can use for education and a place folks can turn for help," said state Del. Keith Hodges, R-Urbanna, who serves on the task force and has been one of the main backers of the campaign. "There are a lot of resources available and this pulls them all together in a one-stop shop."

There were over 1,000 drug overdose deaths in Virginia in 2015, and over half of those deaths involved prescription opioids, according to Virginia Department of Health data. About 344 drug overdose deaths last year in Virginia involved heroin.

The Centers for Disease Control calls an addiction to prescription opioid painkillers – a class of morphine-like drugs that includes Percocet, Oxycontin and Vicodin – "the strongest risk factor for heroin addiction."

According to the campaign, 2,500 teens try prescription drugs every day. Attorney General Mark Herring has made combating what he calls "the heroin and prescription opioid epidemic" a top priority of the state.

Sink or Swim started nearly two years ago with the idea for a public service announcement on drug abuse in Gloucester, Wenner said.

"It's a concern all over," she said. "It crosses all economic barriers and age brackets."

After contacting Dianne Davis with DL Media, a marketing and media company based in Missouri, and Hodges, the campaign evolved from a local Gloucester program to a statewide imitative, eventually reaching a collaboration with several state agencies and local government officials.

"Will you sink or swim became the theme – you have a choice," Wenner said.

The goal is to build awareness of the problem across Virginia. Wenner compares it to the drug campaign from the '80s and '90s that used the cracked egg – "This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs."

The website – drugfreeva.org – offers testimonials from real people who have been affected by drug addiction, as well as drug facts and drug disposal options.

An interactive map on the site under "grab a life ring" allows visitors to type in their ZIP code to find hospitals, treatment centers and support meetings.

"This is not a storm or a hurricane but the Gloucester Emergency Management office looks after our neighbors and this impacts our community," Wenner said. "It is a part of our outreach to protect our community and make them aware of this problem just like planning for a storm."

"We didn't set out to scare anyone. We're saying here's a resource for you to get information," she said. "Once we started talking to people it just took on a life of its own and grew."

The site is expected to continue to expand and grow, Wenner said, adding new resources and first hand accounts when possible. For more information visit drugfreeva.org or for help call 1-855-drugfree.

©2016 the Daily Press (Newport News, Va.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.