Her brother’s fatal overdose inspired new opioid law

Posted at 1:24 PM, Feb 23, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-23 13:24:42-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Thursday, February 23, is a bittersweet day for Ginny Atwood-Lovitt. Four years ago on that day, she made a heartbreaking discovery.

"I'm the one that came home the day my brother died and I found him," Atwood-Lovitt remembered.

Her brother Chris Atwood was 21 years old when he overdosed on heroin in the family's Northern Virginia home.  He got addicted to the drug at age 15.


"The drugs made him spiral out of control. It drug him down so fast," Atwood-Lovitt said.

On what was already an emotional day, Ginny and her father were at the Virginia Capitol in Richmond when Governor Terry McAuliffe signed legislation aimed at preventing the next tragic overdose death.

SB 848, proposed by Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D - Loudoun) and HB 1453, proposed by Del. Dave A. LaRock (R - Loudoun), were both signed into law by McAuliffe at the Patrick Henry Building Thursday morning.

They were two of four laws signed by Gov. McAuliffe aimed at fighting opioid abuse.

Both bills allow community organizations to possess and dispense naloxone to those trained to use it.

Naloxone is a medication that can reverse an opioid overdose (i.e. prescription pain medication or heroin). When administered during an overdose, naloxone blocks the effects of opioids on the brain and restores breathing within two to eight minutes.

"We have to fight this epidemic together," Gov. McAuliffe said. "We all know that getting the naloxone in the hands of more people can prevent another family from experiencing the painful loss of a loved one to an overdose."


Atwood-Lovitt believed naloxone could've saved her brother if it were more readily available.

"If this bill had gone through five years ago and if I had naloxone the day I came home and found Christopher he may still be here," she said.

Atwood-Lovitt and her family started the Chris Atwood Foundation to help provide recovery support and resources to people and families affected by addiction.

"He also had a brilliant mind and he struggled intellectually and emotionally with the toughest questions in life," is how the foundation's website described Chris.

The Virginia Department of Health has projected more than 1,000 people died from fatal opioid overdoses in 2016. That that projection holds true, it would represent a 33-percent increase over 2015.

"It was too late for our brother and son, but I have a lot of hope that it will not be too late for a lot of families out there," Atwood-Lovitt said.