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Law enforcement community wants help from Hampton Roads business community in combating opioid crisis

NORFOLK, Va. - Carolyn Weems had just spoken on the phone to her daughter Caitlyn one morning in April 2013 when a police detective came to her home to tell her daughter was dead. The 21-year-old died from an opioid drug overdose.

"She died alone in a locked bathroom," Weems said. "Nothing will prepare a parent for that. Nothing at all."

Weems, a Virginia Beach School Board member, joined with economists and law enforcement on Thursday morning to call on the business community to help address the opioid crisis. "We got to step up to the plate," Weems told the crowd at the Slover Library.

The crisis appears to have peaked, according to Zachary Terwilliger, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. Still, he says it's a big problem. "As we've seen the numbers - the overdose numbers, the death numbers - are doing down. Are we through it? Absolutely not, but we're moving in the right direction," Terwilliger said.

Economists also pointed to statistics showing the crisis could lead to a population drop as thousands in the region aren't working due to addiction.

"If they're not working, that doesn't help employers expand their businesses. If employers aren't able to expand, you have lower levels of economic growth, which means that people leave the region seeking opportunities elsewhere," Old Dominion University Economist Dr. Robert McNab said.

Weems and other leaders say the business community can help by helping their employees understand what benefits they get at work to help with addiction. She also says promoting long term addiction support and programs can help people like her daughter.

"[Caitlyn's] legacy is going to be one of education and prevention," she said. "That's why I tell her story."

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