Martinsville, Henry County top state for opioid-related ER visits

Latest data says city, county have rate of 29.5 visits per 100,000 residents

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Like many other law enforcement officers around the country now, Martinsville police officers carry Narcan.

The drug can potentially help revive a person who has overdosed.

Martinsville Police Chief Eddie Cassady says it's come in handy.

"To date, we've had two saves," Cassady said Monday.

A multimillion dollar grant the Virginia Department of Health has just received from the CDC could help reduce the number of saves officers have to try to make.

"The $4 million-plus (grant) is money that will be used to develop systems here in the agency as well as supporting local health districts," VDH Emergency Preparedness Director Bob Mauskapf said.

The money has to be used up by August 2019, so the department is working quickly to try to help health districts.

According to the latest report from the Virginia Department of Health, in September Martinsville and Henry County had a combined rate of 29.5 opioid-related ER visits per 100,000 residents.

That was the highest rate in the state.

The city and county had a rate of 16.7 to 26.9 fatal opioid overdoses in 2017, the third highest in the state.

Fatal overdoses increased 8.1 percent in 2017 compared to 2016.

Mauskapf believes the CDC grant, and others like it that other state agencies have received, will make a difference throughout the commonwealth.

"It is our sincere hope and belief that we will be able to start trending down," Mauskapf said.

Cassady and Martinsville Deputy Police Chief Robert Fincher say because of continuing education about the opioid epidemic, fewer prescription pills are popping up on the street.

While in theory that should help reduce opioid abuse, it's actually created another problem.

"Now, the biggest issue we're starting to see is the influx of illegal opioids such as heroin and manufactured fentanyl," Cassady said.

"We kind of anticipated that there would be this shift. Unfortunately, with heroin and fentanyl, your chances of overdosing are much greater than that of prescription pills," Fincher said.

They encourage everyone to educate themselves about opioids and contact law enforcement if they suspect or know someone is abusing opioids.

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