Drug overdose deaths are rising; fentanyl responsible for 75%

Published: Jun. 9, 2022 at 5:36 PM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - Drug overdose deaths increased in Virginia in 2016, and that’s when fentanyl came into play, according to data from the Virginia Department of Health.

Deaths increased again in 2020 when lockdowns started. Fentanyl is the main driver of those deaths.

The substance is used to treat severe pain, but there is also a high risk for addiction and dependence. Fentanyl is so deadly because it’s often disguised as other less potent drugs.

“We’re not finding just straight fentanyl typically. It’s usually mixed with something else. Some of the counterfeit pills. A lot of it’s being found in those,” said Staunton Police Public Information Officer Sergeant Butch Shifflett.

Most of the time, people consuming fentanyl don’t know it’s present.

“A tiny amount of fentanyl in your drugs can really contribute to an overdose,” said Rosie Hobron, State Forensic Epidemiologist in the Virginia Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

U.S. reports show most of the fentanyl in the U.S. is smuggled from Mexico. Before Mexico became the dominant supplier of illicit fentanyl, it was China, according to the DEA.

“There’s a lot more fentanyl coming across the southern border and being trafficked into the US,” said Hobron.

Shifflett said Staunton Police have taken 22 reports of drug overdoses this year. In 2021, they took 38 in the entire year.

“We’ve already exceeded halfway there and we just reached half the year. We’re on par to have more reports this year for overdoses,” said Shifflett.

Fentanyl is responsible for about 75% of all drug overdose deaths in the commonwealth. In the Valley, about half of those deaths are fentanyl-related.

“There’s a large number of methamphetamine involved overdose deaths. Nothing compared to fentanyl, but that’s one thing we see in the southwest region of Virginia,” said Hobron.

To get help with addiction, seek counseling or emergency help. You can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

“Addiction is something that’s dealt with worldwide right now, and it’s like, how do you deal with that? There is help out there. The first thing to do is to seek for that help,” said Shifflett.

The ultimate goal is to help people who struggle with addiction to get sober, but harm reduction techniques lessen the likelihood of dying of an overdose. You can test your unregulated drugs for fentanyl with test strips.

Hobron also recommended if you’re going to use drugs, to use them around others so if you overdose, someone can administer Narcan or Naloxone or call for help.

You can learn more about harm reduction efforts locally through Strength in Peers. Mid-Atlantic Recovery Center is an opioid treatment facility in Waynesboro.

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