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As the holiday season approaches, City of Richmond officials have issued a warning about the dangers of the substance use disorders and encouraged people to get help if they need it.

“These months can be very, very lonely at times and what we know that folks who are in recovery sometimes fall off the path to recovery, but we want to make sure that they’re they get back on the path,” Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said.

While police said they have seen a recent decrease, the Richmond Ambulance Authority reported a 13% increase is suspected overdoses in the first tens months of 2023 compared to last year.

“The substances out there are really dangerous,” Courtney Nunnally, a peer recovery specialist, said. “There’s fentanyl in so many different drugs that you don’t expect it to be in or impress pills, you know, where you think you’re taking something a lot weaker.”

People were encouraged to reach out to local, state or federal resources if they need help — including to RAA’s own Project Recover.

“Being able to put somebody on the path to the proper care is incredibly important,” Richmond Ambulance Authority CEO Chip Decker said.

On overdose calls, patients are connected with peer recovery specialists like Nunnally, who has been in recovery for 11 years.

Nunnally said she meets with up to 20 new people every two weeks.

“When you get a call, you know, saying, ‘I did it. Thank you so much,'” Nunnally said. “We don’t get to hear those as often. But you know, it’s so rewarding and it makes all of the stress worth it.

And Richmond was not the only locality focused on drug overdoses Wednesday. A Chesterfield church partnered with the Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares to raise awareness about the dangers of fentanyl.

Drug overdoses have been the leading cause of unnatural death in Virginia since 2013 and illegal fentanyl, which can be laced in other drugs is a driving factor.

“You have to treat the addiction side. And going after dealers with every tool you have in the toolbox and make sure that our dealers are being held accountable for selling this poison,” Miyares said.

Attendees were also trained in ways to help firsthand like how to administer naloxone, which can counteract the effects of an overdose

Viola Harris said her son died of an overdose five years ago. She wants to protect the next generation,

“I have two young grandsons, one is 13 and one is 15,” Harris said. “Anything that I can do to help save them and any other child, male or female that I can help save. I’m willing to help.

And regarding Project Recover, Nunnally says they have secured funding for another year of the program and to hire three more peer recovery specialists who will start working in the new year.

“I know it’s a struggle during the holidays. It’s a very hard time of the year for a lot of us,” Nunnally said. “We’re all here for you,. So if you ever need help, just please reach out to one of us and we’ll be there to help guide you.”