HENRICO COUNTY, Va. — Photos of past Christmas family gatherings hang on the wall in Carey Colvin's Henrico County kitchen.
The photos feature Colvin's daughter Summer Barrow.
One photo from when she was two years old and one from 2019.
"This is one of the last pictures I have of her," Colvin said pointing to the lower photo.
Colvin would last see Barrow on December 26, 2019. On Jan. 7, 2020, her daughter died of a drug overdose.
"When you have someone who dies tragically, whether it be through addiction or something else, there's a jagged hole left," Colvin said.
But Colvin said something "amazing" happened this week when President Joe Biden signed the $1.7-trillion government spending bill.
As a part of that spending bill is the $900 million "Summer Barrow Prevention, Treatment, & Recovery Act."
It will reauthorize federal funding through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) to combat addiction and substance use disorder.
"Sometimes things just happen the way they're supposed to and this, fortunately, is something that passed that's going to help so many other people in my daughter's name," Colvin said. "That is a boon to her memory and that's something that we feel that she would be enormously proud of. It's bittersweet for us, but it's sweet."
The legislation behind the act was introduced by Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-7), who said she was inspired by Colvin's continued advocacy as fatal drug overdoses have been the leading cause of unnatural death in Virginia since 2013.
"Summer's story, while sadly not unique, is exactly all too common and exactly the sort of story that we want to make sure doesn't happen. That this cycle breaks," Spanberger said.
The various programs address the three stages of addressing addiction:
"Preventing those members of our community from ever going down the path of substance use disorder. Recognizing the challenges that those who are facing substance use disorder and addiction face," Spanberger said. "Recognizing that addiction is a mental health issue and that within our community mental health resources are an important way to support those who are working towards their recovery. And then, recognizing that long-term recovery is exactly that -- it's a long-term process."
"Her co-sponsoring this bipartisan bill, I think, is a huge move in the right direction for this country," Chesterfield County Sheriff Karl Leonard said. "And even helping out localities when that money does come down to us to start making an impact on this crisis that's still taking way too many lives."
Leonard said his department has been the recipient of federal grants in the past to help run their jail recovery program called Helping Addicts Recover Progressively or HARP.
He said more help is welcome.
"We're one of the few recipients of a very significant federal grant through the Department of Justice. It's a COSSAP grant. We're one of the 11 localities nationwide that qualified for it, the only one in Virginia. It has helped us be successful with our program in that it provides funding for additional counselors and therapists, but it also provides funding for that transition homes once you leave the jail setting and try to reintegrate back into the community," Leonard said. "We were seeing about 30 people a day, come into our jail with an opioid use disorder, primarily heroin at that time. Now it's fentanyl. So, we started this program, it's been running for going on seven years now we've had thousands of people through there, we've had some great success in getting people to long-term recovery."
He added he is excited to see that among the initiatives the Barrow Act will support is helping the homeless population and those with mental health issues.
"Probably upwards of 70% of my jail population suffers from mental illness or mental health issues, this bill will provide an alternative place for them to go keeping them out of the criminal justice system, which I think is really critical in helping them get to where they need to be," said Leonard.
While for Colvin, she hopes the funding will prevent other families from having to deal with what her family has.
"She's always going to have left a hole in our hearts. There's always a space that is Summer-shaped that can't ever be filled. But, another family's not going to have that same hole because of this and that, to us, is everything," Colvin said.
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