RICHMOND, Va. -- Experts say that drug overdoses are their own epidemic across the United States.
The CDC's National Center for Health Statistics said the opioid crisis has caused more than 75,000 deaths from April 2020 to April 2021. These heartbreaking statistics hit Richmond Sheriff Antoinette Irving pretty hard.
"We know there's an addiction problem. We know that it's not just a habit, it becomes a disease," Irving said.
It is a problem that her team is working to address inside the Richmond City Justice Center. They are first focusing on inmates who have gotten clean but face temptation once again when they are released.
"We know the pressures are going to be tough when they get out. We want to overload them with information that you may stop for a half-second and say, hey, I remember they said this is going to happen if I do this. Hopefully, it's going to save their life or someone else's life," Irving said.
Irving said her team offers G.R.A.C.E, a voluntary substance abuse treatment program that trains inmates on how to use Narcan to reverse the life-threatening effects of opioids.
She is concerned that Richmond is facing a new threat when it comes to fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that can be lethal when taken in high doses or mixed with other illicit drugs.
In response to the new concern, Irving said they have started a new program offering fentanyl test trips to detect the drug in substances.
"We want to educate them and train them on how to use the fentanyl strips in the hope that if they are going to use, they would test whatever the substance is prior to using it and they are made aware that there is fentanyl in it and it's lethal," Irving said.
Irving said when it comes to this epidemic, they want to keep the education component at the forefront in the hopes that it can save the lives of the inmates who re-enter the community and their loved ones.
"Once it becomes a medical emergency, we want to make sure that they can let the rescue squad take the proper steps to ensure they can help them at that particular moment and get them to the proper care facility that they need," Irving said.
Irving said so far, nearly three dozen inmates have been trained on the use of the fentanyl test strips. When those inmates are released, they will be provided with test strips to take with them and given information on other community resources they can turn to if they need more.