In this past year, the extended time we have all spent in isolation due to the pandemic, has sharply exacerbated the health risks and harms we have seen among the members of our community. Recognizing this, the DEA Washington Division’s Community Outreach and Prevention team jumped into action. The team quickly pivoting and working hard to adapt and overcome these issues, reaching out and delivering virtual outreach events to thousands of community members across the DMV, all in an effort to combat health risks in the community.
Afternoons spent traveling around the sun-soaked DMV has always been the way the DEA Washington Division has engaged with the local community. Meeting with community members where they are – out and about at local events – has been the best way to spread the message of prevention and help.
“From visits with schools, to races and fairs, workplace presentations and National Night Out events – we always aim to meet people where they are,” said Jarod Forget, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Washington Division.
In 2020, that all stopped. With events in the area cancelled or restricted due to the pandemic, the Community Outreach team had to find new ways of reaching people.
DEA Washington Division Community Outreach and Prevention coordinators, La’Risa McLennon and Anect Rivas, quickly produced and implemented a series of informative, engaging, and valuable virtual trainings and workshops the Washington Division launched across the D.C., Maryland and Virginia area.
The response was incredible. From coalition groups, to city councils, to schools and businesses – thousands of community members across the tristate showed interest and registered for the drug prevention and education materials the group was delivering, especially during such a tough year.
There is always a community group, organization, or school looking for drug prevention help, especially now as many families have been hit hard by the pandemic.
“The DEA Washington Division’s virtual events are a great opportunity to connect with local families and community members, while simultaneously empowering communities through knowledge and prevention, during a time when they need it most,” said a local Northern Virginia coalition member.
The division delivers community outreach, education, and prevention events and workshops virtually, both on their own and in partnership with area coalition partners. From May through December 2020, McLennon and Rivas delivered over 84 prevention events, reaching over 2,020 individuals directly, with help and resources on prevention. From Hagerstown to Baltimore, and Salisbury, Maryland; all across D.C. and the counties of Northern Virginia; to Richmond, Norfolk and even Bristol, Virginia – the team has been able to deliver much-needed information to more groups than ever before.
“We are meeting people where they are, while keeping them safe, and helping combat the overdose issues we are seeing this year,” said SAC Forget “This has been crucial for people in our area, especially as we are dealing with combatting the current COVID-19-related overdose epidemic on our communities.”
In the current year, the DEA Washington Division’s Community Outreach and Prevention team’s work is increasing and, with the new Operation Engage initiative, is being expanded across the area. Operation Engage is the DEA Washington Division’s new, comprehensive, community-based initiative aimed at reducing drug misuse and overdose deaths. The goals of this initiative are to support local communities through increased drug education and prevention efforts, and to provide a customized approach by working with local partners and build localized efforts and awareness.
As long as community engagement efforts have to stay virtual, the division plans to continually improve and expand their offerings -- making sure everyone in the DMV has access to the evidenced-based information and strategies they need to keep their families and friends safe.
The positive impact these events are making is especially dramatic given the changes in mental health decline, individual coping behaviors, and resultant overdoses we are seeing across the area.
“Many of our most vulnerable communities are the ones that need our help the most,” said Forget. “We are working hard to target these areas this year and our new virtual events are a great way, even with the pandemic, we can reach our most vulnerable populations, and make the biggest impact across our area.”