Drug Overdose Deaths on the Rise in Virginia

“Skyrocketing numbers of fatal drug overdoses in Virginia make it more urgent than ever to support existing programs and come up with new approaches to combat this deadly scourge,” warned The Virginian-Pilot in an editorial on December 29.

“Opioid addiction and deaths from overdoses of opioids and other drugs were already at epidemic proportions here as in much of the United States, despite increased awareness and more prevention and treatment initiatives. Then the coronavirus pandemic struck, and as with so many societal ills, it made a bad drug problem much worse.” 

Fatal drug overdoses have been the primary cause of unnatural deaths in Virginia every year since 2013. Now 2020 will go on record as the worst year ever for drug deaths in the Commonwealth.

Statewide forensic epidemiologist Rosie Hobron of the Virginia Department of Health’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner told The Virginian-Pilot that as of October there will be 2,053 deaths from drugs in 2020. Most of the deaths are from opioids, but there have also been deaths caused by cocaine, methamphetamine, and other drugs.

Virginia has never recorded more than 1,626 in a single year. Drug deaths were already on the rise before the COVID-19 health crisis, but now overdoses are dramatically increasing while the pandemic continues to escalate.

“It’s depressingly obvious how the pandemic made an already bad problem worse,” concluded the editorial board of The Virginian-Pilot. “Vulnerable people struggling with stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness, and related mental and emotional problems have found their lives made worse in many ways by COVID. They have fewer social interactions. Some have lost jobs or otherwise run into financial woes. Those who usually indulged in drugs in social settings, where someone could call for help or give them a dose of naloxone to counter an opioid overdose, were now more likely to take drugs when alone.”

As we reported on this blog in November, there has been a significant increase in drug use nationwide amid the pandemic. According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 13 percent of Americans started or increased substance use, including legal or illegal drugs, alcohol, and prescription drugs, to “cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19.” More than 10 percent seriously considered suicide in the 30 days prior to the survey. It is important to note that the CDC data was collected in June when the pandemic was far less severe—it is probably even more troubling now. 

“Before coronavirus arrived, Virginia was fighting an uphill battle against the devastating problem of overdose deaths,” wrote The Virginian-Pilot. “Now redoubled efforts will be needed to fight an even more drastic situation.”

The Farley Center at Williamsburg Place has seen a steady rise in the need for treatment since the beginning of the pandemic. Many families have been witnessing loved ones engage in progressively unhealthy behaviors but feel unsure what options are available to them. The Farley Center has taken significant steps to be able to continue serving patients at this challenging time and is available to answer questions you may have. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use and could benefit from addiction treatment services, please contact the Farley Center at 800.582.6066 to find out how we can help.