State Delegates visit Chesterfield Jail to Seek Solution to Heroin Epidemic

PROGRESS INDEX — Delegates from various parts of the state came together last Thursday to tour the Heroin Addiction Recovery Program (HARP) at the Chesterfield County jail. Majority Leader Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights), Deputy Majority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah), Delegate Rob Bell (R-Albermarle), and Delegate Scott Garrett (R-Lynchburg) were guided by Sheriff Karl Leonard for a two-hour visit, including an hour and thirty minutes speaking directly with HARP participants.

HARP was created by Sheriff Leonard as way to fight the growing heroin epidemic in Chesterfield County. The program is multi-faceted and combines medical, clinical, peer-to-peer, mental health, professional, spiritual, family, and aftercare aspects of the recovery process.

“In February of this year the heroin issue in Chesterfield County reached an all-time high. It was at that point, I believe the 10th heroin death in Chesterfield, that I said to myself this is insane. What we have been doing in jails for 80 years simply isn’t working. We needed to think outside the box to create workable solutions. Instead of institutionalizing these guys in the criminal justice system, why not approach this from a medical standpoint. We started working towards breaking the addiction so we could break the cycle” said Sheriff Leonard.
With how pervasive heroin is becoming in our communities, lawmakers are hoping that HARP and similar programs by be part of a potential solution.

“Sheriff Leonard took the resources he had and is making this program work. I commend his commitment and innovative approach to curb this epidemic in Chesterfield,” said Delegate Cox. “I plan on working with my General Assembly colleagues to find ways to replicate this approach throughout the state. Not only must we look at ending addiction, but we have to help these men transition back into the real world with available housing and job options. A strong economy is a key component of this issue.”

A majority of the Delegates’ time at the jail was spent speaking directly with HARP participants about their experiences and why this program is different. Inmates shared they started using as early as pre-teens and conveyed how cheaply and easily accessible the drug can be obtained.

HARP has several key components that make it stand out from other narcotic recovery programs, including up to 6 hours a day doing peer-to-peer counseling.

“I found it particularly interesting that if a person has been released from jail and still feels the urge to use, they are welcomed back to the jail, day or night, to speak with HARP participants and workout the issue” said Delegate Garrett. “It creates a real sense of accountability and community.”

While the program has only been in existence for 6 months, it has had 47 participants complete the program.

“I’m a law and order guy and always have been. But what we have been doing on heroin addiction just isn’t working,” said Delegate Gilbert. “This isn’t treatment in lieu of jail. This is treatment while you are serving your sentence in jail. I have now seen firsthand how heroin addicts can make productive and inspiring use of their time in jail by breaking the cycle of behavior that got them where they are.”