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Retired Richmond police captain leads addiction recovery efforts

retired police captain
(Image: Focal Point)

Retired Richmond city police captain Mike Zohab was on the front lines of policing drug dealers and abusers for almost 30 years, an experience he says changed his opinions on drug use. Today, he leads the Virginia Recovery Foundation, which offers free access to drug treatment programs across the state and provides scholarship support for those who want to pay it forward.



Mike Zohab: I started with the Richmond Police Department in 1988, I was doing a surveillance in a heroin area here in Jackson Ward. I watched a young lady, she had to be in her late teens, and she went through the gutter, and was picking up needles to find a needle to use. And she was at least seven months pregnant. That was their life.

The thing that we're going to do next is we're going to look at the common themes and barriers and what resources don't exist that we could add.

Mike Zohab: There was a movement in Boston. It's a small-town police chief who started letting people come in, knock, approach any policeman, and we'll help get you into treatment. And I was like, well, why can't we do that? And I got the Richmond Police Department, my cell phone number, my personal cell phone number, 24 hours a day, and we would send someone to an emergency room if they overdosed, or to a safe location, to see if we could interest someone into seeking treatment. And the first year that turned the lights on, we placed 72 people in drug treatment in a 12-month period of time.

Anthony Grimes: We wouldn't take somebody that has cancer and was stealing and robbing in order to get their cancer medication. We wouldn't look at them as society as being morally flawed. We would look at them as having a deadly illness and they desperately need treatment. So, when you have somebody to like Mike Zohab, who comes from a background of being on the street, boots on the ground, and seeing that the issue is not with the individuals that live in our society. The issue is with how we get them connected to the proper resources.

Mike Zohab: I do still help people seven days a week, 24 hours a day, navigate the system. But we wanted to have more of an impact. And that's where the scholarship program evolved.

Rob Finnegan: One of the useful parts of recovery is having a counselor or a professional actually provide you psychological or psychiatric advice. And it's especially powerful that person's had the experience of recovery. So, we like the idea of funding someone's education, so they don't have student loan debt when they go out into the workforce and support people in recovery.

Thomas Bannard: Most people don't argue with me when I say that college campuses are hostile environments or recovery hostile environments. And one of the things that Virginia Recovery Foundation has supported throughout its time is collegiate recovery. Especially when you have a space for people to gather, then people can kind of come into the space and realize I'm not alone. I'm not the only person here that is struggling with this thing.

Mike Zohab: All of my life experiences gave me a foundation to do this with the state. Because I'm coming in with my eyes wide open and my ears open, and I'm asking questions, that "why" question. And if I hear, "Well, that's the way we've always done it," I literally roll my eyes, shake my head, and go, "You got to be kidding me." I do have a incredible passion for this. I mean, it's tenacious.

VPM News is the staff byline for articles and podcasts written and produced by multiple reporters and editors.