From Baltimore, Maryland to Winchester, Virginia, Interstate 70 and Interstate 81 weave through “hubs” like Hagerstown, Maryland and Martinsburg, West Virginia. This strip of roadway has become sorrowfully known as “Heroin Highway” due to the high trafficking of the substance through these once unsuspecting towns. WJLA, an ABC News affiliate in Washington, D.C. presented a week-long series to bring sobering attention to the truly destructive impact. Reporter Jennifer Donelan traveled the highway and painted a picture of life along “Heroin Highway.” Stories included interviews with local and government officials, police officers, residents, counseling professionals, as well as parents and loved ones who have witnessed this epidemic take the lives of those most precious to them.
While the report highlighted the control that heroin has over these communities, it also showed that many are using this time of grief to build hope and create a better future. Kevin Simmers, former Hagerstown police officer and father of Brooke who fell victim to the epidemic, is raising money to build a 5,000 sq. ft. home for women in recovery from substance use called “Brooke’s House.” Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring spearheaded the creation of an educational documentary, “Heroin: The Hardest Hit,” which depicts the true story of how heroin has made a home in Virginia. His hope is that this documentary will save lives by providing a vivid and honest depiction of the battle.
Assuming viewers who followed the week-long series would have questions or comments regarding substance use in their lives and communities, Donelan hosted a two-hour phone bank in the fight against heroin. Taylor Shay, Program Director and Clinical Supervisor at Phoenix House Counseling Center in Arlington, Virginia, helped answer calls. Joined by 10 other people, including DEA agents, treatment center representatives, and family members who have lost a loved one, Shay answered calls that had diverse, yet similar purposes. “Some people called to report drug trafficking, others called just to talk about their connection to the disease,” Shay said. “But, overall, most people seemed to feel alone and just wanted someone to talk to.”
As the epidemic gains media attention, individuals and loved ones living with substance use disorders have been fighting silently for decades. People affected by substance use disorders are often misunderstood due to the centuries-long stigma attached to the behaviors associated with drug use. With increasing attention being brought to this deserving population, however, there is hope that the voice of recovery will be heard so that communities may learn that people do recover and live fully functioning, healthy lives.