HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) — Drug overdose deaths spiked in Virginia in 2016, and that’s when fentanyl came into play, according to data from the Virginia Department of Health.
Deaths rose again in 2020 when lockdowns began. Fentanyl is the main culprit in these deaths.
The substance is used to treat severe pain, but there is also a high risk of addiction and dependency. Fentanyl is so deadly because it is often disguised as other, less potent drugs.
“We usually don’t just find pure fentanyl. It is usually mixed with something else. Some of the counterfeit pills. You get a lot of that in those,” Staunton Police Public Information Officer Sgt. Butch Shifflett said.
Most of the time, people who use fentanyl don’t know it’s there.
“A tiny amount of fentanyl in your medications can really contribute to an overdose,” said Rosie Hobron, a state forensic epidemiologist with the Virginia Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
US reports show that most fentanyl in the US is smuggled from Mexico. Before Mexico became the main supplier of illicit fentanyl, it was China, according to the DEA.
“There’s a lot more fentanyl crossing the southern border and being trafficked into the United States,” Hobron said.
Shifflett said Staunton police have recorded 22 reports of drug overdoses this year. In 2021, they took 38 over the whole year.
“We are already halfway there and we have just reached halfway through the year. We’re about to have more reports this year for overdoses,” Shifflett said.
Fentanyl is responsible for around 75% of all drug overdose deaths in the Commonwealth. In the Valley, about half of those deaths are fentanyl-related.
“There are a large number of deaths from methamphetamine overdoses. Nothing like fentanyl, but it’s something we see in the southwest area of Virginia,” said Hobron.
For help with addiction, seek advice or emergency help. You can call the SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) hotline at 1-800-662-4357.
“Addiction is something that’s being treated around the world right now, and it’s like, how do you deal with it? There’s help out there. The first thing to do is ask for that help” , Shifflett said.
The ultimate goal is to help people struggling with addiction get sober, but harm reduction techniques reduce the likelihood of dying from an overdose. You can test your unregulated medications for fentanyl with test strips.
Hobron also recommended if you are going to use drugs, use them with other people, so if you overdose someone can give you Narcan or Naloxone or call for help.
You can learn more about local harm reduction efforts through Strength in Peers. Mid-Atlantic Recovery Center is an opioid treatment center in Waynesboro.
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