VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — It’s a first-of-its-kind program in Virginia Beach.
Inside of the city council chamber on Thursday, city leaders announced the launch of a new First Step Program.
Put simply: it’s an all-hands-on-deck approach to helping people suffering from addiction get treatment.
Colin Stolle, the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Virginia Beach, said he got the idea from a similar program in New Jersey.
“I always felt that there needed to be something else put in place to try and simplify the process for those who aren’t in the criminal justice system, who need help with their addiction and 'how do they get to it,'" said Stolle.
The new program, which launches May 1, is a collaboration between the Virginia Beach Police Department, Virginia Beach Emergency Medical Services, the Department of Human Services and the Virginia Beach Psychiatric Center.
Those battling addiction can get help by showing up to one of the Virginia Beach police precincts.
From there, public safety agencies will assist in coordinating transportation and directing the person to treatment programs.
Aileen Smith, the DHS director, said they’re witnessing a crisis on top of a crisis.
During the pandemic, the opioid epidemic has spiraled.
"The epidemic that we’re facing is just almost insurmountable," Smith said. "With that, we’re challenged to do something different."
According to data from VDH, more people died from drug overdoses than deaths by vehicle accidents or gun violence in Virginia over the past few years.
In 2020, opioid overdose deaths in the Commonwealth were the highest on record.
In Virginia Beach, there were 103 opioid overdose deaths in 2020, more than double the number from 2019, when the city had 44 overdose deaths.
Kurt Hooks, CEO of the Virginia Beach Psychiatric Center, said the statistics were alarming.
"That challenges us to do more," Hooks said. "We’re hoping to save some lives. That’s the bottom line here."
During the press conference, Virginia Beach Police Chief Paul Neudigate said taking progressive action against the opioid epidemic was critical.
"It really addresses that law enforcement is so much more than just arrests, and that we’re really out there to serve our community in a servant capacity," Neudigate explained.
He said police precincts will serve as a safe place for those seeking help.
If a person has active warrants, they have to be served on those who appear at a police precinct. Neudigate said warrants cannot go ignored, but when it comes to a person’s immigration status, the police department doesn’t play a role in that process and won’t focus on a person’s status.
There’s no limit to the amount of times a person can participate in the First Step Program.
Virginia Beach EMS Chief Edward Brazle said the program is about saving lives.
"If we wanna prevent the overdose, get people treatment for their addictions, this is the long term," Brazle said.
You can find more information about the First Step Program here.
Those suffering from addiction can seek help 24/7 at the following locations:
- VBPD 1st Precinct, 2509 Princess Anne Road: 757.385.4377
- VBPD 2nd Precinct, 820 Virginia Beach Blvd: 757.385.2700
- VBPD 3rd Precinct, 926 Independence Blvd: 757.385.2703
- VBPD 4th Precinct, 5152 Lobaugh Drive: 757.385.2800