Tom Murphy isn’t just the Virginia State Police Special Agent assigned to battling the heroin epidemic – he’s a victim as well.
Murphy’s son, Jason, died Dec. 13, 2017 from a heroin overdose.
Murphy recounted his tale locally at the Culpeper task force to battle the opioid epidemic.
Murphy first spoke publicly about his son’s passing and his addiction a day before in front of the acting drug czar Jim Carroll – whom Murphy had worked with nearly 30 years ago – and then shared his story a day later in Culpeper. His account shows that substance abuse issues do not discriminate and if it can happen to him – one of the lead law enforcement officials battling the epidemic – it can happen to anyone.
“If you don’t think it can happen to you or someone in your family, you’re wrong,” Murphy said. “If you want to attach a stigma to it, attach it to me, to my face and my family.”
His son suffered from mental health issues, he was diagnosed with ADD at a young age, had depression and anxiety issues and had been medicated since the fourth grade. As he grew older, he began to self-medicate with marijuana and that didn’t sit well with his dad. Murphy had his son arrested a couple of times, but when he turned 18 he left home and started to bounce around from apartment to apartment. He was arrested a few times more, and each time Murphy and his family wouldn’t bond him out.
“I believe in punishment and tough love and there’s got to be a fine balance between the two,” Murphy said.
Jason had been in jail since March 2017, but in September a girlfriend bonded him out.
“I told my wife that he’s going to get locked up again and go to prison, or he’s going to end up dead, sure enough he ended up dead,” Murphy said. “There were nine other families there telling their stories, but I’m a unique situation because of what I’ve done for 30 years. It’s personal to me.”
Murphy’s story is all too familiar in the region – which is why Culpeper County Sheriff Scott Jenkins formed the task force – consisting of four committees (enforcement, treatment, finance and education) to meet regularly to discuss the epidemic and tactics that can be used to address it.
Probation and parole officer Stephanie McDonald leads the treatment committee, Culpeper Department of Human Services executive director Lisa Peacock is head of the finance committee and Catalpa District School Board representative Nate Clancy runs the education committee.
The committee heard from Lauren Cummins, executive director of the Northern Shenandoah Valley Substance Abuse Coalition, about how that region has handled the epidemic.
Cummins said that the NSVSAC has seen a decrease in deaths – thanks due to the administration of Naloxone, the region is seeing a resurgence of cocaine. Through last week, that region has seen seven overdose deaths in 2018, compared to 18 in the same time frame last year.
Cummins talked about the creation of a drug court in the region as an alternative to jail time for residents facing drug-related charges. She explained that participants must call in each morning, follow strict curfews, submit to random drug tests and appear before the court each week. She said the program costs about $900 per participant over a 20-month period and it took $195,000 to launch.
She also talked about how coalitions and community partners can help educate and address the issue before addicts even start using the drugs.
Culpeper’s coalitions already have a head start on that initiative.
Living the Dream 5K and Walk
More than 100 runners and walkers turned out to support the Living the Dream Foundation’s third annual 5K and Walk April 14.
Off to the side of the supporters, Culpeper resident Linda MacDonald stood with her dog Suzie. She showed up to support Ed and Gloria Long and their coalition, because her family knows all too well the pain of losing a loved one to an overdose.
It’s been nearly five years since her son Tyler overdosed on heroin on Sept. 11, 2013. It’s a pain that lingers, and will for the rest of her life, but it was magnified just six weeks ago when her niece in New Hampshire died at age 20 from a heroin overdose.
Tyler was a star lacrosse player for Culpeper County High School, a two-time MVP and helped lead the Blue Devils to a 15-4 record his senior year. A powerful midfielder, he was known for his big hits and ability to distribute the ball. After high school, he got into a crowd that was distributing more than a lacrosse ball.
“I think it came from just the crowd he was hanging out with and they dabbled from one thing to another,” Linda said. “It just led to heroin. To be honest, I didn’t even know half of what was going on. When I did find out, he finally got his act together for a little bit. He was clean for about a year, maybe a year and a half.”
He started working odd jobs, doing work in North and South Carolina and was in New Jersey doing work during Superstorm Sandy. After he finished a job in North Carolina in September he called home wondering what he should do – he didn’t want to come home because all his friends there were using.
He ended up coming home on a Sunday or Monday, Linda recalled, and by Wednesday she came home from work to find him in his bedroom dead. He was 25.
“I talk about it with people who need it, or who want to talk about it,” Linda said. “I don’t make it a daily conversation.”
The wound was reopened when her niece died six weeks ago.
“It was like going back in time,” she said. “It was just like reliving the day I found Tyler dead.”
Now, she comes out to help support area coalitions but the pain of her loss will forever still.
“It’s a long road, it never goes away,” Linda said.