HARP participants reconnect with family amid recovery

Chesterfield County’s Heroin Addiction Recovery Program allows families of participants to come visit during Family Night

CHESTERFIELD — Before last week, Thomas Goodall, a recovering addict currently in Chesterfield County’s special Heroin Addiction Recovery Program (HARP), hadn’t seen his three children since December.

“It’s beautiful,” said Goodall. “Getting to hug them and kiss them is inspirational.”

Two of Goodall’s youngest children came; he proudly noted that his oldest just started college several weeks ago.

Families of HARP participants like Goodall got to spend time with their loved ones, as HARP hosted its special Family Night program on August 24. The program aimed to not just reconnect the participants with their families, but to help educate the families on what their loved one is going through.

“It’s all about encouraging the families, because they’re a big part of the recovery process,” said Chesterfield Police Cap. Eric Jones, who is one of the officers in charge of the male wing of HARP. “Many of the participants haven’t seen their families in a while.”

HARP was started in March of 2016 by Chesterfield County Sheriff Karl Leonard in an attempt to treat the underlying causes of addiction. Overdose fatalities had spiked in Chesterfield County because of the ongoing heroin and opioid epidemic and Leonard was looking for a different approach to treat the addicts coming into the system. The program brings in peer counselors from the Richmond-based McShin Foundation to help guide the participants as they get clean and learn how to live a drug-free life.

Because HARP keeps the participants very busy on a day-to-day basis, there is little time for families to visit.

“It’s a very strict program,” said Jones. “And the advisers hold the members to very high standards.”

Special speakers addressed the families along with the HARP participants, telling them about their role during the recovery process. Braxton Collier was one of the speakers, who came on behalf of the McShin Foundation and Families Anonymous. Collier’s son succumbed to his addiction in 2014. Since then, Collier has been speaking about what families can do when their loved ones are addicts.

“Parents: never give up, but understand what you’re dealing with,” he said.

Collier talked about his experiences while his son was struggling with his addiction, a scenario which he called “a rollercoaster.”

“My son would tell me what I wanted to hear, what I needed to hear, and I bought it,” he said. “I was convinced I could fix his problem.”

Collier started attending Families Anonymous, which is a group that aims to support the family members of addicts.

One of the counselors from the McShin Foundation, Clifford Jones, also gave advice to the families, encouraging them to create a network with each other.

“It’s important to be able to relate to one another-to talk to one another,” he said.

After the speakers, the HARP participants had time to mingle with their families, as many participants hadn’t seen their children or loved ones for long periods of time.

“Hopefully, it lets the families leave with a little less stress, and a little more hope,” said Jones.

Local governments around the Tri-Cities area have all recently taken steps to help combat the increasing threat that heroin and opioids pose to public health and safety. Both Dinwiddie and Colonial Heights have hosted summits where residents can learn more about the epidemic, and what local authorities are doing to combat it. The police departments from Colonial Heights and Petersburg also teamed up to give all officers special Naloxone kits, which is the drug that is administered to someone who is overdosing on opioids or heroin.

The heroin and opioid epidemic has led to a huge increase in drug overdose deaths in the U.S in recent years. The New York Times did a special report in June that approximated 60,000-65,000 people died from overdosing in 2016.

• John Adam may be reached at jadam@progress-index.com or 804-722-5172.