Valley health departments target drug overdose epidemic

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STAUNTON, Va. (WHSV) - As new data from the federal government shows an increase in drug overdoses during the first half of the decade, health departments in the Shenandoah Valley are finding ways to target the issue.

In their National Vital Statistics report published Tuesday, Dec. 20, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found the number of deaths due to overdoses rose 23 percent nationwide between 2010 and 2014.

Opioid drugs made up the highest percentage of these deaths.

The Central Shenandoah Health Department, which began tracking emergency room visits due to accidental overdose earlier this year, found 85 cases between June and November 2016.

"Another concerning statistic over the course of the past seven years is that Augusta County, in particular, has a very high rate of death from opioid overdoses," said Dr. Laura Kornegay, M.D. with the Staunton-Augusta Health Department.

In November, the Virginia State Health Commissioner declared a public health emergency due to opioid overdoses.

Dr. Kornegay said people in the Commonwealth can now access naloxone, a life-saving antidote used for people suffering from overdoses, without a prescription.

Local health departments have also started offering free drug-disposal kits that work for any medication.

"A lot of people have unused drugs in their medicine cabinet and it's very important to get rid of those in a safe manner," said Dr. Kornegay. "This will avoid any misuse or diversion of drugs that you may have around the house."