VDH: Fatal drug overdose up nearly 67% from this time last year

New River Valley News

BLACKSBURG, Va. (WFXR) — The Virginia Department of Health’s (VDH) most recent report on drug overdose deaths shows that 2020 could be a record-setting year, and not in a good way.

The report from VDH shows Virginia has already seen 1,086 drug related deaths, and by the end of the year, health officials expect that number to double.

The uptick is being attributed, in part, to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“People are not able to do the things that would give them value: meeting with family members that are not immediately adjacent to them, their employment, education is different,” said Dr. Warren Bickel, Director of Virginia Tech’s Addiction Recovery Research Center at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute.

Those stresses, according to Bickel, make those affected by the pandemic more susceptible to the influence of getting involved in substances like opioids, most notably fentanyl.

“It is so potent and so… just a small fraction of it can be lethal,” Bickel said.

Deaths attributed to fentanyl have nearly doubled from this time last year.

“What we need to provide, if we’re going to try and impact that, is a pathway to the future that people can see in value,” said Bickel.

There are services available throughout southwest Virginia, in places such as local hospitals and community services organizations.

Bickel points to the prescription drug Suboxone, also known as buprenorphine, as a way of weaning addicts off the heavier opioids.

“It’s a safer substance, and getting people on it often chills them out because it’s also long acting,” Bickel said.

Bickel went onto say that while the numbers are grim, recognizing the problem is part of the problem solving process.

He says the potential of a COVID-19 vaccine could provide some hope and a time frame of a return to normalcy to those heavily affected by the pandemic, that putting folks back at work, in class, or out socializing will help them put away the thoughts of turning to drugs.

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