One of Northern Virginia’s top health care providers is taking dramatic new steps to combat drug addiction through an awareness campaign that will look to battle the stigma associated with the disease while empowering those looking for ways to support a family member or friend who has fallen into addiction.

Inova recently launched Act on Addiction, noting that a recent survey found that 65% of all adults in Northern Virginia, including more than 70% of millennials, say they know someone who struggles with addiction. Meanwhile, nearly half of adults surveyed do not know how to help someone in need of treatment or support. 

An Act on Addiction Summit is planned for Oct. 5. Titled Bridging the Gap for Young Adults, attendees will participate in informative breakout sessions and learn more about resources available in the area. 

This summit will be held in coordination with Fairfax County Public School’s annual Mental Health and Wellness Conference at Fairfax High School, 3501 Rebel Run, Fairfax.

“One of the problems is that it is an insidious process,” said Michael Clark, chair of psychiatry at Inova Health System, noting some abuse starts with legal and prescribed substances. “There’s a certain element of this where people can justify the use, rejecting the signs others are seeing.”

When family members and friends see those signs, the calls for the person to get help need to be “a drumbeat and a chorus,” Clark said.

“You tell the person, ‘we think this is a problem and this is the evidence,’” Clark said. “And the person who gets into treatment and eventually into recovery is the person you continue to engage.” 

Education is an important part of the project because the stigma persist around substance abuse and mental disorders associated with it.

“We’ve broken down the stigma with other diseases, like HIV, by helping the public better understand the disease,” Clark said.

Family members should also make sure medicines are secure. 

“We want to raise awareness that these are dangerous substances,” he said. “Lock them up and limit access.”

The Act on Addiction campaign is one component of a larger project made possible by a $16 million gift from the Russell Hitt family to help destigmatize addiction throughout the community and make recovery accessible through personalized and effective treatment plans, according to a news release.

"The Act on Addiction campaign is a program that is near to our hearts," said Brett Hitt, co-chairman of HITT Construction. "While these statistics are startling, each number represents the life of an individual, a friend, a family and a neighbor in our community.”

Inova is taking on the issue of opioid and drug addiction by increasing the number of drug detox beds at Fairfax Hospital and an earlier screening process for patients to catch early warning signs of drug addiction, Clark said. Doctors in the system are also handing out fewer prescriptions for opioids and increasing access to the types of treatment that can prevent overdose deaths. 

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