A group of people fighting the opioid epidemic in Berkeley County is garnering national attention (The New Yorker, CBS). In the Hope Dealer Project, three women work together to drive people struggling with addiction to inpatient detox or rehabilitation centers – pushing the message that recovery is possible.
"Dealing Hope Instead of Dope"
Tina Stride is one of three women who volunteer, day or night, rain or shine, to pick up a person in the Martinsburg area who is struggling with drug addiction. She provides transportation to an inpatient detox facility with available beds, anywhere in the state.
She and two other women formed a non-profit organization called the Hope Dealer Project in 2016 after seeing loved ones struggle with addiction, without a local state inpatient detox center to go for help.
The nearest one is a two-and-a-half-hour drive away, in Morgantown. For someone struggling with addiction, timing is crucial.
“Usually around this time, it’s like 8:30 p.m.; we’re heading to the hospital to get medically cleared with someone that has Medicaid," Stride explained, "We’ve already reached out to the detox centers, we have located a bed, and we know we have to get them to the hospital, to get there, get them cleared, so their name gets on that bed.”
Berkeley County had the second-highest number of drug overdose related deaths in West Virginia this past year, according to the state Department of Health and Human Resources.
The Hope Dealers call their clients “recovering warriors.” Tiffany Arredondo-Castillo is one of them. She developed an addiction to heroin laced with fentanyl after gallbladder surgery.
“So, it was for three months after my surgery, and I ran out of pills,” Tiffany said. “My baby sister knew where to get the pills, but she just couldn’t get them at the moment, so she was like, well, here, you know, just take a line of this; of this until I find your pill, and I took a line, and that was all she wrote. It started from that minute. I went on and on and on.”
Tiffany struggled with addiction for four years, lost custody of her three kids, and even lost her two sisters to overdoses.
In January 2017, Tiffany heard about the Hope Dealers and decided to reach out. Tina Stride drove Tiffany to detox.
“It was crazy, because I spent $350 that day on the same heroin that I had been using for a month, and I couldn’t get high, at all," Tiffany remembered. "So I met her at the hospital, and she took me to Westbrook in Parkersburg, and I’ve been clean ever since. I came home January 7, 2018.”
Tiffany has now reconnected with her kids, bought a new home, and she’s even volunteering with the Hope Dealer Project to help drive new clients to detox.
Why Deal Hope?
Tina Stride and two other women, Tara Mayson and Lisa Melcher, do this work for “warriors” just like Tiffany.
All three women are determined to fight this epidemic because they know the heartache of watching a loved one suffer.
Tina’s son is a recovering heroin addict, Tara was in a relationship with someone who struggled with drug addiction, and Lisa’s daughter Christina struggled with addiction on and off for ten years.
Christina died from an overdose last year, leaving behind two children.
“Everybody knows that there are days that I would rather run away from it, but Tina keeps saying, you need to tell her story. So, I think it would just be a shame for us not to try to do something," Lisa said. "It would be a waste of what we had to go through. We definitely don’t want any mom to ever have to go through this, and I say all the time, if addiction has not touched you, I pray it never does, cause it’s a road from hell.”
The women behind Hope Dealers first met at a Nar-Anon meeting in Martinsburg in 2016, which is like Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous, but Nar-Anon is for families of loved ones who have an addiction.
While Tina and Tara both work full-time jobs, Lisa devotes her work day to the Hope Dealer Project; monitoring messages, confirming with clients whether they have Medicaid or private insurance, calling detox centers, or getting someone scheduled for transport.
Tina and Tara are the main drivers right now, but they do have a few other local volunteers who help drive. Tara says it takes a special person to do what they do.
“If I get off [work] at 4:00, and we have a call, and Lisa says I’ve already requested a client to go to the ER, can you meet them there to get them medically cleared? Instead of going home, I pull straight up at the ER; we get them medically cleared; they could be done, let’s say 9:00, and then I have a two hour, to a four hour drive, so that would put me there at like 2:00, 3:00 o'clock in the morning, and then I have to make that drive back home; hoping I make it back in time for work,” Tara explained.
The women say they don’t mind the long hours, because they could be saving someone’s life. Lisa and Tina point out there’s a small window of opportunity when someone suffering from addiction reaches out for help -- so you have to work fast.
“When they are going through that, they’ll come to clarity for a moment and reach out for the help; that’s not all the time. So, that’s another reason why we do it.” Lisa noted.
"And they get scared; they get scared," Tina said, "because they know the sickness that they’re gonna go through, and we’ve had some th at we’ve met at the emergency room, because they had Medicaid, where they just couldn’t walk in that door yet, you know, so, okay, let us know when you’re ready, and that sounds terrible, but they have to be ready, because they have to go through it.”
Since the Hope Dealer Project formed in 2016, these women have transported about 600 people from the Eastern Panhandle area to inpatient detox centers in West Virginia, and helped thousands of others who were just calling to ask for advice...callers from around the continental U.S. and even some in other countries.
The Hope Dealers run entirely on donations and volunteer work, and the group is applying for some state and federal grants.
Tina, Tara, and Lisa say beyond securing more funds, the biggest hurdle going forward, is getting an inpatient detox center in Martinsburg, securing 24-hour transportation for people needing detox, and making Martinsburg a welcoming environment for returning “recovering warriors.”
An inpatient detox facility in downtown Martinsburg is set to open this summer and will offer 16 beds.