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Drug overdose deaths on the rise nationally and in the Valley

Fentanyl, which is often disguised as another drug, is often the reason drug use is fatal. (WHSV)
Fentanyl, which is often disguised as another drug, is often the reason drug use is fatal. (WHSV)(WHSV)
Published: Nov. 19, 2021 at 5:56 PM EST
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AUGUSTA COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) - New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows there were more than 100,000 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. from April 2020 through April 2021.

That’s an increase of about 28.5% from the same period the year before. Local health officials say that national increase affects the Valley, too.

“Unfortunately, it’s a statewide issue. There isn’t really any area of Virginia that’s been spared. It’s all over,” said State Forensic Epidemiologist for the Medical Examiner’s Office Rosie Hobron.

Hobron said fentanyl was a big part of that increase, and those patterns are true for the Valley.

“The trend of increases in fatal overdoses is reflected locally,” said Laura Lee Wight, Population Health Community Coordinator for the Central Shenandoah Health District.

Fentanyl started playing a role in overall overdose deaths rate in 2013, and use has been on the rise every since. It’s a synthetic opioid that is disguised as another drug, often one a person would buy off the street.

The biggest difference between fentanyl and another street drug is that fentanyl is highly fatal.

“In 2020, three out of every four drug overdose deaths in Virginia involved fentanyl,” Hobron said.

Hobron said many people who end up using fentanyl don’t know they’ve taken it at all.

“They buy a pill from a friend, but they think they’re taking a Xanax or something and it’s a fentanyl pill. It could be a one time thing,” Hobron said.

After the overall increase in 2013, there’s another notable rise. VDH reports an increase in drug overdose deaths after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, fatal overdoses which would include all substances, not just opioids, has increased about 41.9%,” Wight said.

As people try to establish a new normal, drug use has gone up.

“The pandemic has exacerbated an already existing public health crisis within our community. We are all experiencing collecting trauma going through the global pandemic,” Wight said.

Opioids, specifically fentanyl, continue to affect the Augusta County region. From 2019 to 2020, there was a 6% jump in Augusta County, a 4% jump in Staunton and 13% in Waynesboro.

Wight said combatting opioid overdoses is addressed in a program at CSHD called REVIVE! REVIVE! is an opioid overdose and naloxone education program.

Naloxone is a medication that works to reverse the overdose before it happens. To get information on the program, email cshdinfo@vdh.virginia.gov.

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