UVa-Wise partnered with law enforcement, mental health leaders, state officials and others Wednesday to sponsor a summit designed to help the region combat the opioid abuse in the region.

The event, “Taking Our Communities Back: Synthetic Narcotic and Opioid Abuse Prevention Summit,” was held at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center in Abingdon. The summit drew law enforcement from as far away as Virginia Beach. Officials from various state agencies and mental health professionals attended as well.

UVa-Wise Chancellor Donna Henry welcomed the nearly 300 people to the summit. She said the College is committed to the region, and the summit would highlight the great work many in Southwest Virginia are doing to address the serious opioid challenge. 

Delegate Todd Pillion, who received the Virginia Rural Health Lawmaker of the Year award Wednesday for his legislative work in the Virginia General Assembly, said addressing the opioid crisis will be a priority again in Richmond this legislative session. He said opioid addiction is destroying communities, but Virginia is becoming a leader in addressing the problem.

“We will remain vigilant,” he said.

Chad Napier, the Prevention and Education Coordinator for Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area in West Virginia and Virginia, urged those attending to work together in the opioid fight.

“We are in the middle of an epidemic,” he said. “We have got to work together if we are going to make a difference.”

While law enforcement will always be key, Napier said addressing the reason people use the substances must also be a part of the mix. He outlined several successful programs that focus on helping children, helping addicts recover, and apps that help law enforcement monitor and predict where drug overdoses and deaths occur.

Those attending also had an opportunity to network and discuss what is working and what can additionally be done to combat the crisis. The Healthy Appalachia Institute, UVa-Wise Office of Economic Development and Engagement, and UVa-Wise were among the summit sponsors.