Local heroin addiction recovery program goes national

CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WRIC) — The Chesterfield County Jail where sober and recovering addicts were once incarcerated is now their place of refuge thanks to the Heroin Addiction Recovery Program (HARP), now leading the way for the rest of the country.

“I have my life back,” said HARP graduate Julian Parker, “HARP didn’t just help me with my addiction; it helped me with my anger and my self-esteem.”

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Sheriff Karl Leonard launched the innovative program in the spring of 2016. At the time, his jail was over-loaded with people fighting addiction.

“I was releasing sober addicts who had no tools to fight their addiction,” Sheriff Leonard said in a February 16 Facebook Live video. “They were succumbing to their addiction once again.”

With zero funding and no blueprint, Leonard bucked the system, changing the rules and acting quickly to save lives.

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“If we didn’t do it right then, someone else was going to die. So that’s what we did.”

Within 48 hours, the sheriff partnered with the McShin Foundation to implement clinical services and professionals inside the jail, plus a peer-to-peer support system.

“He just took a different approach to allow our peers to come into the jail,” said Ryan Riggs, who was once incarcerated and now runs the jail program.

If someone feels the urge to use, they can call the sheriff’s office and get a ride back to the jail to reconnect with the program.

“When I used to see people coming off the street it was kind of surreal to see them back in there,” Parker said.

The program costs approximately $2,500 a month for 40 inmates, or $750 a year per inmate.

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“Ultimately it’s a community problem. (Sheriff Leonard) has his finger on the pulse,” Riggs said.

As an urgent public health crisis shakes America, other facilities are now replicating the HARP program.

“This is the beginning of change, the entire climate’s beginning to change,” Riggs told 8News.

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Demand for the HARP guidebook for facilities is so high that it is outpacing Chesterfield’s ability to produce it, all in hopes that others in recovery can experience Parker’s success.

“It’s not just for me,” he said of his continuing visits to the Chesterfield County Jail. “It’s for my brothers as well, going and being able to talk to them.”

A recent study found that if even 40 percent of incarcerated addicts received treatment, it would save the United States more than $13 billion per year.

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