Bucking statewide trends, Arlington County may be seeing opioid overdoses trend down this year.
So far this year, Arlington registered 44 overdoses with Narcan — a brand name for the opioid-reversal drug naloxone — deployed in 35 instances. Of the overdoses, eight involved juveniles, all of whom received Narcan.
That marks a 31% decrease this calendar year in total opioid overdoses, compared to other Virginia jurisdictions still seeing increases, says Emily Siqveland, the opioids program manager for the county.
That is the good news, to be taken with a more sobering projection that Arlington County is not seeing a similar decline in fatal overdoses. As of this time last year, Siqveland says Arlington had the same number of fatal overdoses as it does now: 15.
Arlington County has been significantly affected by the opioid epidemic wreaking havoc on the country and the region, where the Inova health system estimates some 32% of adults have a family member or friend with an addiction. In response, the county has joined lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies linked to the opioid crisis, putting settlements toward treatment.
It was the January 2023 death of 14-year-old Sergio Flores after overdosing at Wakefield High School, however, that threw a spotlight on the use of pressed pills among young people and a lack of local treatment options for them. His passing prompted a surge in activity and conversations within Arlington Public Schools, the county and the broader community.
Eight months later, some of that work is coming together.
Works in progress
The hyperlocal focus on young people dovetails with findings from Inova that younger generations are particularly touched by addiction. It found 32% of Gen Z and 39% of Millennial survey respondents reported having a family member or friend with an addiction.
APS has hired one substance abuse counselor and is finalizing paperwork for the other, says Darrell Sampson, the school system’s executive director of student services. This would bring the total number of counselors to eight serving the division.
This year, the Dept. of Human Services and APS are preparing to station four county therapists in the high schools. To date, 320 high school students have family consent to carry Narcan in school.
“With the additional substance abuse counselors, we’re able to expand supports to middle schools,” Sampson tells ARLnow, noting insufficient support for 6-8th graders was a concern in the community. “We want to try to keep [kids who are experimenting] from blowing up into a more full-blown addiction or using even more concerning substances.”
In June, several years after closing down its juvenile treatment program, National Capital Treatment & Recovery (NCTR) — formerly Phoenix House — debuted its new adolescent intensive outpatient program this summer.
As of yesterday (Thursday), NCTR has admitted 13 patients and has had to turn away referrals from outside the county, which it cannot accept at this time, NCTR Chief Clinical Officer Pattie Schneeman tells ARLnow.
“I anticipate the referrals will increase now that school has started, because that is often where we start seeing the needs surface, i.e. when it interferes with school attendance, etc.,” Schneeman said.
Seven years after ending its substance use treatment options for youth, a local facility is poised to resume providing some outpatient services.
National Capital Treatment & Recovery CEO Debby Taylor tells ARLnow that Arlington County approached the center about providing therapeutic services to youth in the county after 14-year-old Sergio Flores fatally overdosed at Wakefield High School. The center has since obtained licensure to provide intensive outpatient and outpatient services and could be ready to debut its programming this spring.
“We had always hoped to get back in adolescent treatment, but we felt that we needed to do just the outpatient services at this point,” she said.
Since Flores died in late January, the county and Arlington Public Schools have mounted a “full court press” to address this issue, Dept. of Human Services Deputy Director Deborah Warren told the Arlington County Board during a joint work session with Arlington Public Schools this past Friday.
“The tragic loss of the 14-year-old has knitted the county and APS in a way we weren’t before,” Warren said. “I’m really impressed with the rapid response and the alignment on the urgency of the problem. We are developing all kinds of innovative ideas for how to help children and adolescents to address the emotional mental health crisis.”
In addition to the forthcoming contract with National Capital Treatment & Recovery, the county is looking to put DHS clinicians in high schools and work with neighboring jurisdictions to open a medicated withdrawal and treatment facility for adolescents. Arlington Addiction Recovery Initiative has ramped up training in the opioid reversal drug naloxone and the distribution of Narcan and fentanyl test strips.
“All staff members will be trained in the use of naloxone by the end of April,” APS Executive Director of Student Services Darrell Sampson told the County Boar. “Naloxone is available on all floors in secondary schools and we are exploring additional mental health education for school staff and high school students.”
Warren said fatalities from overdoses have reduced 40% through AARI’s training and distribution efforts.
“This is literally saving lives,” she said.
The number of fatal overdoses peaked in 2021 and has since decreased dramatically, Suzanne Somerville, the county’s bureau director of residential and specialized clinical services, tells ARLnow.
“AARI believes that it is related to the distribution and accessibility of harm reduction services,” she said. “The county has made a strong push to get Naloxone and Fentanyl Test Strips to anyone who is interested. We tracked the distribution of harm reduction tools and number of overdoses and extrapolate that there is a correlation between the two.”
That said, AARI has noticed “a significant increase in younger people overdosing” related to pressed pills, she noted. There have been seven juvenile overdoses, of which one was fatal, seven juvenile Narcan uses and 17 total opioid incidents involving minors.
That is why DHS is focused on filling the gaps in substance use treatment for youth, beginning with National Capital Treatment & Recovery, with which Warren said her department is “on the cusp” of a contract.
“We have significant gaps in our system of care for substance use disorders in kids,” Warren said. “We have really developed these services for adults in the last five to six years, in response to the opioid crisis. We are working hard to develop contracts with vendors to fill in these gaps.”
Taylor anticipates opening in about a month, after finalizing the paperwork and hiring clinicians, preferably those who are bilingual. The county has offered to cover operating costs until the program is accredited and can take insurance reimbursements.
(Updated at 4:15 p.m.) As more parents and caregivers grapple with substance use addiction among youth, they are increasingly turning to the juvenile justice system as a last resort.
Over the past year, there has been upwards of a 100% increase in the number of petitions being made for court-ordered services, such as drug treatment, according to Hon. W. Michael Chick, Jr., a judge with the Arlington County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.
“They are coming to the court to say, ‘We’re desperate, please save my child,'” he said in a video message to parents shared during a panel discussion on drugs last night (Monday) hosted by three high school Parent-Teacher Associations and the Arlington County Council of PTAs.
“They are children with severe substance addictions and they’re desperate,” said Chick.
“To have kids come in front of you, asking for a treatment program and you’re not able to provide it — to have a kid beg you to put them in detention to save them from themselves — it’s heartbreaking,” he continued, reinforcing reports that youth are effectively detoxing in the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center in Alexandria.
There have been at least seven juvenile overdoses in Arlington County this year, including the death of 14-year-old student Sergio Flores after a fatal overdose at Wakefield High School. Following his death, teachers, parents and School Board members have called on Arlington Public Schools and all of county government to do more for children.
A slew of school– and community-sponsored panels have brought together first responders, counselors and addiction specialists and prosecutors to educate parents. The most recent was held last night at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, featuring a live panel discussion as well as pre-recorded messages, drawing some 200 virtual and in-person attendees.
An emerging theme at these meetings is the role of parents. The panel was as an outlet for a handful who shared first-hand observations as well as obstacles they face obtaining resources for their kids and getting through to them, with some panelists suggesting different ways parents can step up.
One mother shared how her daughter recently attempted suicide twice, part of a mini-rash of student deaths and attempted suicides this school year, and how long it took to schedule meetings with the right school officials to obtain accommodations to keep up with her schooling.
Michelle Best, who co-facilitates a parent support group through the local branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, empathized with how hard it can be for parents to receive services from the public schools in these situations.
“There’s a lot of information that could be better given to parents, out there in a better way,” she said.
A few panelists put the onus on parents, including Deputy Chief Wayne Vincent, the leader of the ACPD Community Engagement Division, who encouraged parents to tip the police to known drug dealers.
“I can’t tell you how many times, when I’m in our community, I hear, ‘Wayne, how do you not know who’s dealing? Everybody knows,'” he said. “Here’s a flash. No, not everybody knows. The police don’t know. There are so many ways you can help identifying who they are.”
Crystal City Water Park to Get Big Upgrade — “JBG Smith Properties is pitching a major makeover for a small park at the heart of its Crystal City holdings, envisioning some new retail and even a bar atop a water feature. The developer filed plans with Arlington County earlier this month requesting an additional 6,100 square feet of density for the 1.6-acre park, located across the street from JBG Smith’s massive ‘Central District’ project at 1770 Crystal Drive.” [Washington Business Journal, Twitter]
Vote By Mail Facts — “The first round of vote-by-mail ballots have been sent to people who requested them, but it’s not too late to request yours. Ballot applications must be received by 5 p.m. on Oct. 23. To help you understand how voting by mail works — and feel confident in submitting your ballot — we’ve broken down the facts you need to know.” [Arlington County]
Deer Rescued from Country Club Fence — “On Tuesday night, a curious fawn tried to get through a metal fence in the Washington Golf and Country Club. Unfortunately her adventurous plan backfired, and the fawn ended up stuck and stranded. The country club called animal control, which is under the Animal Welfare League of Arlington, and that’s when Officer Shannon Rose sprung to action.” [Washingtonian]
Weekday Afternoon Robbery in Ballston — “At approximately 4:21 p.m. on September 23, police were dispatched to the report of a robbery just occurred. Upon arrival, it was determined that the suspect entered a business, approached the front counter, and passed the employee a note demanding money and threatening them if they didn’t comply. The victim complied, and the suspect stole an undisclosed amount of cash, then fled on foot prior to police arrival.” [Arlington County]
National Landing Food Program Extended — “Thanks to generous support from the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), Amazon, JBG SMITH, Equity Residential and individual Arlington residents, the National Landing Business Improvement District (BID) announced today that its Farm-to-Families food assistance program will be extended through the fall.” [Press Release]
Addiction Recovery Org Rebrands — “The name will change but the mission will remain the same – working to help those struggling with addiction turn their lives around. Phoenix House Mid-Atlantic announced Sept. 16 that it would change its name to National Capital Treatment and Recovery, following its split last year from the national Phoenix House organization.” [InsideNova]
(Updated at 5:15 p.m.) Courts in Arlington County will no longer legally declare people drunks and arrest them for drinking alcohol after a federal court ruled the old law unconstitutional.
A full panel of judges on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a state law called “interdiction” which allows counties to label people “habitual drunkards” and prosecute them for having or drinking alcohol. The judges ruled 8-7 last week that the law left the meaning of habitual drunkards “unconstitutionally vague” and constituted cruel and unusual punishment — a violation of the Eighth Amendment.
“We hope that this means that our clients can have the debilitating label ‘habitual drunkard’ lifted from them and they can move through their lives without constant fear of prosecution,” said Elaine Poon, the managing attorney at the Legal Aid Justice Center which has helped lead a class-action fight in court to overturn the law for the last three years.
Prosecutors in Arlington this week dismissed seven active cases brought under the nullified law, and police have suspended enforcement — though laws against public drunkenness and other alcohol-related crimes remain on the books.
“In accordance with the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruling, the Arlington County Police Department has suspended enforcement of the Virginia Code sections related to alcohol interdiction,” said ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage. “No arrests or charges will be sought in relation to those code sections.”
Brad Haywood, Arlington’s Chief Public Defender, said attorneys in his office were notified about the change Thursday morning when they showed up to court, and his office was “ecstatic” to hear the news last week.
“This has been an issue that defense attorneys and social workers have been fighting for decades,” he said. “Since the first day I’ve worked a public defender 15 years ago there were concerted efforts to overturn this law.”
The case, Manning v. Caldwell, is named after Roanoke man Bryan Manning. A judge declared Manning a “drunkard” nine years ago under the interdiction statute without Manning present because the man, who is homeless and had struggled with alcohol addiction for several years, can be difficult to find. Over the next eight years, Manning racked up over 30 charges related to possessing alcohol or being suspected of drinking it, and the frequent arrests often cost him jobs and led to him losing his possessions.
Manning isn’t the only one: in Arlington, one interdicted man has been charged 37 times, per data the prosecutor’s office shared with ARLnow.
The same data shows 12 people have been interdicted in Arlington since 2015, and in total there are 50 interdicted in the county — with each person averaging 19 prosecutions. Between 1996 and 2015, there were 1,220 people legally declared drunks across Virginia, reported the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Arlington law enforcement officials are launching a program to help people with addictions get help without jail time.
“Operation Safe Station” allows the Office of the Magistrate to waive charges on people with an addiction who turn themselves and their drugs in, and ask for help.
“Forgoing a prosecution and connecting individuals to treatment professionals is a first step in fighting this pernicious epidemic,” said Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos in a statement Tuesday.
The program is the latest effort combatting the opioid crisis after the county saw a 245 percent increase in patients seeking treatment for opioid addiction between 2015 and 2017.
Operation Safe Station will refer participating people to “support groups, outpatient office based opioid treatment programs, Methadone programs, and when appropriate, residential treatment” per the description on the county’s website.
The program is a joint creation of the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, Arlington County Police, and Arlington’s Dept. of Human Services (DHS).
In a Tuesday press release, Chief of Police Jay Farr, DHS Director Anita Friedman, and Sheriff Beth Arthur praised Operation Safe Station for “removing barriers” preventing people from seeking help with their addictions.
However, the program does not accept people who:
- Have outstanding arrest warrants
- Have been convicted of giving, selling, or distributing drugs, or convicted of doing so with the intent to manufacture
- Are under 18 years old and don’t have a guardian with them
- Are determined to be a threat to program staff by police
Those who do not meet these criteria still face arrest if they turn themselves in with controlled substances at the Magistrate’s Office.
Operation Safe Station participants must also agree to a search and sign an agreement committing themselves to the program.
The program’s announcement comes several months into Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos’ campaign for re-election. Challenger Parisa Tafti has criticized the prosecutor for being slow to implement criminal justice reform measures like eliminating cash bail.
Stamos has defended her record earlier this week by referencing success of her “Second Chance” program she says diverted 500 minors struggling with addict from court since its start in 2011 as well as a Drug Court program.
Marine Corps Marathon Recap — A D.C. man and a Costa Rican woman were the winners of the 43rd annual Marine Corps Marathon on Sunday. Meanwhile, the last “Groundpounder,” who had run every Marine Corps Marathon since its inception in 1976, announced his retirement on Saturday after deciding to withdraw from this year’s race. [RunWashington, Stars and Stripes, WTOP]
Arlington Gets Addiction Treatment Grant — “Arlington County has been awarded $250,000 from CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield (CareFirst) to help people with substance use disorders. The grant is part of the insurer’s nearly $2.1-million investment in community health organizations working to combat substance use disorders, including opioid use disorders.” [Arlington County]
Parking Concerns For Nauck Pool — “Nauck Civic Association president Portia Clark, whose organization supports” a planned pool in Nauck, “pressed county officials to make sure the neighborhood had a say on issues related to its development, including operating hours and parking. ‘Our community has some parking challenges,’ Clark said. ‘The community should be involved.'” [InsideNova]
‘Signs of Fatigue’ For Real Estate Market — “There was a pronounced drop in the number of homes for sale in Northern Virginia in September, and prices may be showing signs of topping out… The number of sales across the Northern Virginia region almost universally fell in September, with sales in Arlington County down 12 percent from a year ago.” [WTOP]
New Weapon in Battle Against Opioid Addiction — “Arlington County has taken a proactive measure in the fight against prescription drug abuse by installing three permanent drug-take back boxes. The public can now safely and securely dispose of unused, unwanted or expired prescription medications 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 day a year. This disposal service is free and anonymous with no questions asked.” [Arlington County]
Lack of 5G Could Hurt Amazon Bid — Arlington’s lack of 5G wireless service could hurt it in the eyes of Amazon as the online giant considers the county for its second headquarters, says a letter to the editor writer. The county should have more actively adjusted policy and lobbied carriers for 5G, the writer suggests. [InsideNova]
Woman Arrested After Victoria’s Secret Assault — “A D.C. woman was arrested for attacking two employees at a Victoria’s Secret in Arlington after she says one of them followed her around the store, according to authorities.” [WJLA]
Average I-66 HOV Round Trip Cost — The average round trip cost for single occupant drivers on the I-66 Express Lanes, from their December opening to the end of April, was $12.72, according to new data. Some drivers have faced steeper tolls during “peak of the peak” times. [InsideNova]
Photo courtesy Jeremy Galliani
(Updated at 6:35 p.m.) Encore Recovery Solutions, a rehabilitation center for young adults trying to overcome “substance use and co-occurring behavioral health disorders,” is expanding.
The drug rehab center has been in business for just over a year and recently moved to larger offices in Ballston. The Ballston facility hosts an outpatient treatment program, according to Tom Walker, Encore’s director of community relations.
In February, Encore announced via Facebook that it had also purchased a residential property at 5805 26th Street N. in the Leeway-Overlee neighborhood, for use as a “sober living environment for young adults.” The house has been approved as “legally non-conforming use by Arlington County,” Walker said.
Some people who live near the home have expressed concerns about its new use.
“We have communicated with several of the neighborhood residents individually, and attended the Open Door Monday meeting yesterday evening where we discussed our plans with other neighborhood residents,” Walker said via email. Some residents are “very much in opposition,” he acknowledged, while others are either “openly supportive of Encore’s efforts” or “willing to engage in discussing best practices.”
Between 2015-2017, Arlington saw a 245 percent increase in patients seeking treatment for opioid addiction and related disorders. The number of patients went up from 100 in 2015 to 345 in 2017, according to the county.
Photo via Encore Recovery Solutions/Facebook
County Aims to Fix Boring Columbia Pike Architecture — “Arlington County Board members on Dec. 16 approved amendments to the county’s zoning ordinance that revamps existing regulations for Pike properties that are built under the Form-Based Code, a 15-year-old process that aims to speed the development timeline but has had the unintended consequence of rendering architectural creativity persona-non-grata on the Pike.” [InsideNova]
McAuliffe Proposes Metro Funding Plan — Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is proposing a $150-million-per-year state funding plan for Metro. The plan includes using a portion of Northern Virginia’s regional transportation sales tax and increasing three other regional taxes. [WTOP]
Gutshall to Be Sworn In Today — Erik Gutshall, the newest Arlington County Board member, will be sworn in today at 5 p.m. at county headquarters in Courthouse. [InsideNova]
Pentagon Had UFO Office — The truth is out there, in Arlington — at the Pentagon, specifically. It was revealed this past weekend that the Pentagon had a secretive program that investigated reports of Unidentified Flying Objects. The “Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program” officially ended in the 2012. [Politico, Washington Post]
Phoenix House Renovation and Expansion — “On time and on budget – and without a dollar of government funding – Phoenix House Mid-Atlantic on Dec. 12 unveiled new and updated facilities in Arlington aimed at giving an extra boost to patients moving through the addiction-recovery process.” [InsideNova]
Hot Item for the Holidays: E-ZPass — With tolling set to begin on what are now the I-66 HOT lanes, stores in Arlington and elsewhere in Northern Virginia are having trouble keeping E-ZPass transponders in stock, particularly the E-ZPass Flex devices that will allow carpoolers to continue to use I-66 for free. [WJLA]
W&OD Trail Changes Discussed — Officials are considering options for separating cyclists from those on foot on the W&OD Trail. “I love the potential separation,” Arlington County Board member John Vihstadt is quoted as saying. “I think that will be well-received by both sets of users.” [InsideNova]
Dad Speaks Out After W-L Grad Son ODs — “As an admiral I helped run the most powerful military on Earth, but I couldn’t save my son from the scourge of opioid addiction,” writes retired Adm. James Winnefeld, in an Atlantic article entitled “No Family Is Safe From This Epidemic.” Jonathan Winnefeld, a Washington-Lee High School grad, died in Denver this past September “after a long and honorable battle with addiction.” [The Atlantic, Legacy, Denver Post]
More on Accessory Dwelling Vote — A GGW writer argues that while the Arlington County Board is to be commended for allowing the creation of basement apartments that can be rented out, it punted on the issue of backyard cottages at its Tuesday meeting. The Board’s action on so-called Accessory Dwelling Units included instructing the County Manager to study setbacks from the property line for detached accessory structures before any are approved under new rules. [Greater Greater Washington]
New Incentive for Sustainable Buildings — “Arlington County will pioneer Virginia’s first Commercial-Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE) program–a public-private partnership to provide affordable, long-term financing for projects to improve the energy or water efficiency of commercial buildings in the county.” [Arlington County]
DCA Tweets at Teigen — Model and social media personality Chrissy Teigen told followers yesterday that she left “a very large mom bra” under her seat on a flight that arrived at a D.C. area airport. Reagan National Airport’s official Twitter account responded by recommending that Teigen stop by the Spanx store in the airport for a replacement. [Twitter]
‘Age in Place’ Tax Deferral Questioned — Mortgage and title companies are reportedly not big fans of Arlington’s Real Estate Tax Relief Program, which allows older residents who meet certain income requirements to defer property tax payments until the home is sold. The system has sometimes sprung large tax bills on unsuspecting heirs, real estate agents and mortgage settlement officers. [Falls Church News-Press]
Flickr pool photo by Michael Coffman