CULPEPER STAR-EXPONENT, CLINT SCHEMMER
The U.S. House of Representatives has approved Rep. Abigail Spanberger’s proposal for a long-term community response to the alarming rise in fentanyl and other opiate deaths.
Late Wednesday night, a bipartisan majority of House members voted to pass the Virginian’s Summer Barrow Prevention, Treatment and Recovery Act. The bill would provide $900 million for overdose prevention, first-responder training, treatment for pregnant and postpartum women with substance-use disorder, co-prescribing programs, and alternatives to opioids in emergency rooms.
Spanberger named her legislation in memory of Summer Barrow, a Virginian who died in January 2020 from a fentanyl overdose. When Barrow broke her neck in a car accident, she was prescribed an opiate for pain, later turning to heroin and fentanyl.
Culpeper Police Chief Chris Jenkins and Rappahannock Area Community Services Director Jim LaGraffe support the bill. Culpeper’s five-county region saw 47 fatal overdoses in the first nine months of 2021, LaGraffe has said.
The House passed Spanberger’s legislation as part of the Restoring Hope for Mental Health and Well-Being Act.
“Last night’s passage of my bipartisan Summer Barrow Prevention, Treatment and Recovery Act signals a strong response to the scourge of addiction and substance use disorder we’ve seen in Virginia’s communities and across the country,” the two-term legislator said in a statement. “This bill recognizes the deep and long-lasting addiction challenges faced by so many loved ones, friends, and neighbors. My bill can send a message of hope to those who are struggling today.
“I urge the U.S. Senate to move quickly to reauthorize these critical programs, redouble our efforts against addiction, and lend an extra hand to the selfless members of our local communities who provide help and a path towards recovery to others,” Spanberger added.
Virginia and national organizations have endorsed the legislation. They include recovery advocates, law-enforcement departments and health-care professionals.
Outside the U.S. Capitol on March 29, Spanberger joined Virginia law-enforcement officials, Virginia community groups, recovery advocates and Summer Barrow’s family to announce the introduction of the legislation. Chief Jenkins and LaGraffe were among them.
“Culpeper is a small community about an hour and a half south, yet I can tell you we face almost daily the effects of opiate use and drugs and death,” Jenkins said then. “Our officers are on the front lines almost every single day responding to an emergency call where someone has overdosed.”
The COVID-19 pandemic’s last two years took focus off the opiate epidemic, the police chief said. “It is back again and it’s full force,” Jenkins said.
He said the Summer Barrow Act will save lives.
Between October 2020 and October 2021, nearly 106,000 Americans died by drug overdose, a record for such deaths in a single year, the federal Centers for Disease Control say. Fatal overdoses in Virginia over the same time period increased a record 18 percent.