Anti-drug group hires an executive director

The Winchester Police Department’s community relations and crime prevention specialist has been hired to lead the planning for a drug court focused on getting addicts into treatment and finding alternatives to jailing them.

Lauren Cummings will join the Northern Shenandoah Valley Substance Abuse Coalition as its executive director on Jan. 4, the coalition’s executive committee announced on Monday.

Cummings, who has served as chairperson of the coalition’s community outreach subcommittee, was described in a written statement as someone who has been “an integral part of launching the Road to Recovery website and bringing awareness to the community about this public health crisis.”

Cummings’ duties will involve preparations for the opening of the drug court, which is targeted for July. She will also work on finding local treatment options, granting funding and increasing public awareness about heroin and opioid abuse.

“I’m really excited about the opportunity and coming up with real solutions to this public health crisis,” Cummings said. “The bottom line is we have to save lives, and that starts with getting people the treatment they need and finding alternatives to incarceration.”

The death toll from heroin and other opioid overdoses in 2015 stands at 21 in Shenandoah, Warren, Page, Clarke and Frederick counties, a number considerably lower than the 32 deaths recorded in the same area in 2014 and the same as the 21 fatal overdoses recorded in 2013.

The substance abuse coalition was created in May 2014 in response to alarm over the tide of heroin flooding into the area and the resulting number of addicts suffering fatal and near-fatal overdoses.

Cummings’ position will be paid for with money from the Winchester city government, Clarke and Frederick counties and Valley Health.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com