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Kaine, Harrisonburg community leaders discuss substance use issues

Randi B. Hagi
Mairani (center), a junior at Harrisonburg High School, talks about the availability of drugs to minors.

Community leaders in Harrisonburg met with Senator Tim Kaine on Wednesday to discuss substance use, treatment, and recovery. WMRA's Randi B. Hagi reports.

Randi B. Hagi
Mayor Deanna Reed and Senator Tim Kaine open the discussion.

Kaine met with city council members, law enforcement, nonprofit leaders, and local residents to hear what drug-related problems the community was facing, and what could be done to address them.

A Harrisonburg High School junior named Mairani spoke about how social media has made it easier to get drugs.

MAIRANI: Snapchat, Instagram, TikTok, everyone is using it … not only high schoolers do it. As young as fourth graders are starting to post videos about, like, "oh I'm smoking in the bathroom."

Brooke Wetherell, a detective with the Harrisonburg Police Department, was formerly a patrol officer.

BROOKE WETHERELL: You can, from right here where we sit, throw a stone and I can hit two houses of overdose deaths that I have worked.

Randi B. Hagi
Detective Brooke Wetherell, left, listens to Paloma Saucedo speaking.

She and others at the table praised the work of Nicky Fadley and the organization Strength in Peers, which provides peer support and fentanyl test strips, among other programs.

WETHERELL: Honest to God, in the last two months, I have told every single addict that I run into daily, "please, go to Strength in Peers."

Paloma Saucedo lost her 18-year-old son, Jorge Eli, earlier this year, presumably to an overdose, although she's still waiting on an official cause of death. She recounted calling the police while he was having a mental health crisis.

PALOMA SAUCEDO: And because my son was already 18 … and he was denying suicidal ideation, they could not intervene. So my question to them was, when will you be able to do something, when you have to come and get his body? And a week later they came to get his body.

Saucedo told WMRA that he was a wonderful son, brother, and friend.

Randi B. Hagi first joined the WMRA team in 2019 as a freelance reporter. Her writing and photography have been featured in The Harrisonburg Citizen, where she previously served as the assistant editor; as well as The Mennonite; Mennonite World Review; and Eastern Mennonite University's Crossroads magazine.
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