A new mobile outreach program in Northern Virginia helps people with substance abuse disorders by providing “safer use” kits to prevent overdose.
The Chris Atwood Foundation parks a van in the community to offer peer support and overdose prevention items like clean needles and syringes, fentanyl testing kits, and the overdose reversing medicine naloxone.
“They do not judge you at all,” said a woman who encountered the van outside a methadone clinic. “They treat you just like a regular person, like just a normal person.
That message — “No judgment, just love” — is posted on the outside of the van.
The approach is known as comprehensive harm reduction, recognizing not all people using drugs are ready yet for treatment but face tremendous peril.
“We really want people to feel seen and loved and supported in a way they probably haven’t been before,” Chris Atwood Foundation Executive Director Ginny Lovitt said.
“Giving away one of these could potentially save a life,” peer support specialist Ian Gordon said. “So we’re always glad of that.”
Before he entered treatment, peer support specialist Dan Buckley used to travel from Northern Virginia to D.C. to get clean syringes and needles. This program offers much more.
“We support complete abstinence, but if you are going to use, we want you to be safe and we want to help you in any other way we can, whether it be housing, food, even getting your ID at the DMV,” Buckley said.
The peer support specialists say building trust is key so when people are ready for treatment, they can guide the way.
“My goal is really just to spread seeds all over the place for recovery and helping people return to their best self,” peer support specialist Brittany Roberts said.
The Christ Atwood Foundation has done Narcan distribution and training since 2014 but is expanding its reach and scope with the mobile outreach program.