Virginia one of many states seeing big increase in 2020 overdose deaths

Local News

ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — Coronavirus deaths are just one facet why last year is being called the “deadliest in U.S. history.” Another reason is drug overdoses.

“Saddened, but not surprised,” said Niles Comer, a former addict.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 93,000 people lost their lives from drugs in 2020. That estimate far eclipses the high of about 72,000 drug overdose deaths reached the previous year and amounts to a 29 percent increase.

The number is also the highest number of drug overdose deaths ever recorded in United States history.

Courtesy: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

The CDC reported that in 2020, drug overdoses increased in all but two states, New Hampshire and South Dakota.

In Virginia, health officials saw a 41.6% increase in predicted cases from December 2019 to December 2020.

For Comer, a former addict, the report hits too close to home.

“I’ve realized how personal this story is,” said Comer. “Having friends who have died in the last year.”

He says he’s experienced the rough times of being surrounded by addicts all his life. His grandfather and father both died from alcoholism. He soon became an alcoholic himself.

“My brain is wired towards addiction, so it got out of control and in a matter of years, I lost everything,” said Comer.

Thanks to a support group, he is now celebrating a decade of sobriety. Comer says he couldn’t have done it without the help of others, something many addicts lacked during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The universal reality of healing from anything that’s traumatic is being in a community of like-minded people. Literally, physically surrounded by people who understand,” said Comer. “Addiction is a disease of isolation. It takes a community to heal you.”

These days, he stays busy giving back to his community with local organizations, in hopes of helping others who are struggling.

“What I want to say to people is, you’re not alone. There’s help,” said Comer. “There’s hope, and if you woke up today, there’s a chance. If you’re still breathing, there’s a chance.”

There are some Roanoke organizations that lend a helping hand to those battling substance abuse, including:

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The organization’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance abuse disorders.

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