RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Drug overdose deaths continue to devastate communities across Virginia. Just as hospitals see babies born into addiction, children are also left behind when a loved one overdoses.
Grief comes in all shapes and sizes — but for children who lose a parent or sibling, they’re often forced to grow up all too soon.
That’s where Comfort Zone Camp steps in.
“Comfort Zone is a safe and fun place for grieving youth,” said Comfort Zone Camp National Community Facilitator, Jessi Schmale.
“That’s ages 5 all the way through 25 to be in a space with their peers who get it. To be around others who’ve had a death in their family.”
Kids go to camp after losing a loved one to all kinds of tragedies.
But as the heroin and opioid crisis grows in Virginia, more kids are affected by grief after a loss to addiction.
Last year alone, the Virginia Department of Health says all overdose deaths increased 38 percent.
Schmale says coping after a death by addiction often involves more questions and sometimes even relief.
“Grief is hard work for adults and especially for children and young people because they don’t necessarily have the tools and the language to express themselves,” said Schmale. “And then when we think about stigmatized loss, like death by addiction, there are layers of loss and there’s complicated emotions.”
Loneliness and confusion make grief even harder, so Comfort Zone Camp works to have children make connections with fellow campers who have gone through similar experiences.
“Grief doesn’t go away but what we learn is that if you learn to manage it you can move with it,” said Schmale.
Fatal drug overdoses are the leading cause of unnatural and accidental deaths across the commonwealth. In 2016, 1420 Virginians died from fatal drug overdoses.