RICHMOND, Va. –
From the 30,000 foot level this whole opioid/heroin crisis is as fuzzy as the Hollywood Hills on a hazy summer’s day. But after spending the afternoon with 20 (17 in the room and three on teleconference) members of Community Coalitions of Virginia, the opioid crisis became as clear as Los Angeles after the Santa Ana winds blow through. During member introductions, seven of the 20 people attending the meeting were related to or had personal contact with individuals who had either died from an opioid drug overdose or who are in recovery themselves—and that’s only those who spoke up. It is these types of substance abuse issues that bring National Guard Counterdrug civil operations specialists and community coalitions together.
Sgt. 1st Class Douglas Perry, Virginia National Guard Counterdrug Civil Operations Specialist, brings his military unique skills, tools and expertise to this meeting to assist civil authorities and help coalitions broaden their capacity to become more effective and efficient in their effort to address substance abuse and use in their communities.
“Virginia Counterdrug employs two highly trained and experienced Civil Operations Specialists who provide meaningful support to coalitions,” Lt. Col. William Taylor, Virginia National Guard Counterdrug Coordinator, said. “Master Sgt. Ken Muse and Sgt. 1st Class Perry provide training and facilitation to improve leadership, strategic vision, capacity, and effectiveness with a focus on sustainability.”
Perry enters the room engaging coalition members the moment his foot crosses the threshold. His slow, tempered southern drawl belies his enthusiasm. He eagerly shares Counterdrug success stories and offers suggestions for greater coalition effectiveness.
His enthusiasm is infections.
“I love it when you come in that fired up,” a coalition member said.
“It’s about helping people,” said Perry. “Helping people make their communities a better place through group effort makes more of an impact on the community and/or the individual than giving the person on the street holding the homeless sign money.”
The small talk over, Perry takes his seat, something he has done nearly every month for the past three years working with CCoVA.
Perry has been working to help Virginia communities across the state address substance abuse and use issues in their communities for the past six years. As a civil operations specialist, he uses military processes translated for a civilian audience to try help coalitions affect change.
“As coalitions struggle to figure it out—figure out how they can affect their community in a positive way, I propose guidance, direction and motivation—help them [community members] see what they lack and then offer suggestions to make better use of the processes,” said Perry. “I bring a military style and leadership to apply to the problem—to help them answer the questions, why now, why here?”
Once the community has answers to these questions, Perry helps coalitions solve the why.
“We build strategies around why—and why is different for every community because each community has a different need and each has a different set of resources to address the need,” Perry said.
He has been offering guidance to CCoVA in their advocacy against the legalization of marijuana. CCoVA uses data gathered from states where marijuana has been legalized to educate legislators and citizens in Virginia about the impact of legalization and the dangers of marijuana.
The goal, said Perry, is to build healthier communities by addressing issues such as the opioid crisis and marijuana legalization. The data, he said, helps coalitions develop strategies to address substance abuse issues, and it helps determine what resources are needed to accomplish the mission.
For Perry success is measured by watching coalitions grow and numbers of drug related incidents fall.
“Our success comes from coalition success,” Perry said.
And CCoVA has grown. Originally, they met by going to different venues throughout the state. Generally, four or five people would be in attendance. Perry saw the need for a stable meeting place with teleconferencing capabilities. Once he recognized this necessity, he found a means for a stable location to conduct meetings with teleconferencing capability. This stability has enabled CCOVA to grow the outreach with coalitions around the state.
“Since I have been able to connect state and local coalitions and enabled a means for meetings and teleconferencing capabilities, meetings have grown from four or five attendees to 20 or 30,” Perry said.
“We wouldn’t be as strong as we are without the National Guard,” a coalition member said. “Doug has us rockin’ and rolling.”
“The National Guard resources enhance our coalitions’ ability to reach their communities,” Nancy Hans, outgoing chair of CCoVA said.
Perry is that glue that binds. He serves as the liaison connecting state coalitions with the local community coalitions. Because he travels all over the state, he takes information from one end of the state to the next. He can personally share knowledge about what works and what doesn’t work.
“I’m the intermediary, I connect with everyone,” said Perry. “Like today’s naloxone information, I can take that info back to other communities and redistribute it to connect the state.”
“By taking the experience of planning and leadership—helping communities build a happier healthy community means everybody wins—the better we work together as a community the more everybody wins,” said Perry. “The rising tide, floats all boats.”
Hopefully, that win will mean a future CCoVA meeting where no one in the room will personally know anyone who has died of an overdose or who is in recovery because people will have stopped abusing opioids and other substances at the current deadly rate—because the community got involve.