Virginia’s Latest Opioid Overdose Numbers Are in and They’re Not Good …
The opioid epidemic in Virginia shows no signs of letting up as new overdose death statistics prove that Fentanyl is making the problem worse.
In the first quarter of 2016, there were 361 drug overdose deaths in Virginia. During the same time period in 2017, that tally ticked upwards to 377 overdose deaths. That comes out to a 3.9 percent increase in the first quarter. Compared to the 40 percent increase that Virginia saw between 2015 and 2016, some might take a single digit percentage increase as a silver lining. Truthfully, it could be worse, though researchers say it is still to early to tell whether or not Virginia will see as large of an increase in overdose deaths as in previous years, especially with more Fentanyl hitting the streets.
Fentanyl is the biggest problem, and that’s what is contributing to the overall increase,” statewide forensic epidemiologist Kathrin Hobron said in a statement. “But cocaine is something to keep an eye on, too.”
Fentanyl’s rise in popularity in Virginia mimics what researchers are seeing in other states. The drug is so deadly that it is actually influencing how medical staff, police, lab technicians, and even funeral workers interact with overdose victims. The drug is 40 to 50 times as potent as street-level heroin. The DEA warns that Fentanyl can be absorbed through the skin, meaning that any contact made by law enforcement or first responders could prove fatal. Last week, a Stafford sheriff’s deputy was treated for an accidental opioid overdose after searching a suspect’s van and accidentally touching the substance.
In a warning sent to law enforcement agencies last year, the Drug Enforcement Agency lists Fentanyl as “a synthetic opiate painkiller [that] is being mixed with heroin to increase its potency, but dealers and buyers may not know exactly what they are selling or ingesting.” That is what makes it particularly dangerous. People who overdose from fentanyl tend to not even know that their drugs contain the deadly compound. It tends to be mixed into heroin shipments to make the product more potent.
Both urban and rural parts of the state are seeing spikes in opioid deaths, though researchers believe that how people get hooked can vary by region. Rural and middle class Virginians tend to become addicted after they are prescribed opioid painkillers. When their prescriptions run out, they turn to heroin as a more affordable option. In cities, Fentanyl knockoffs and heroin tend to be what get people hooked.
When Virginia Health Commissioner Marissa Levine declared the opioid epidemic to be a public health emergency, she issued a “standing prescription,” which allows any Virginian to purchase Naxalone — a drug to treat overdoses — from pharmacies.
Last year, Commissioner Levine admitted that she didn’t know when Virginia’s overdose deaths would peak.
It’s not just heroin causing people to die. It’s Fentanyl and synthetic Fentanyl with different potencies. We’re now seeing carfentanil. Someone who’s getting heroin laced with carfentanil could die easily.”
While Fentanyl is 50 times more powerful than heroin, carfentanil — an elephant tranquilizer — is 100 times more potent than fentanil. One single carfentanil salt can kill a human. The image below shows what a fatal dose of each of these opioids looks like.
When Virginia Health Commissioner Marissa Levine declared the opioid epidemic to be a public health emergency, she issued a “standing prescription,” which allows any Virginian to purchase Naloxone — a drug to treat overdoses — from pharmacies. The District of Columbia is also rushing to get Naloxone into to law enforcement and first responders.
It is a good start, but if the first quarter’s overdose statistics are any indication, it will take a lot more to begin making serious progress.