Drug overdose deaths down statewide

But deadly drug overdoses still a problem across Southwest Virginia

ROANOKE, Va. – Drug overdoses are the leading cause of unnatural death in Virginia, more than car accidents and gun related deaths. A new Department of Health report shows there has been improvement since last year.

However, Dr. Warren Bickel, the director of the addiction recovery research center at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute says that doesn't mean things are looking up.

"It's hopeful, right?" Bickel said, "But we need more data before we can say things are turning well for us."

The report looked at five different drugs: benzodiazepines, cocaine, fentanyl, heroin and prescription opioids.

Cocaine deaths jumped 11.5 percent and meth increased 44.3 percent. Fentanyl caused or contributed to nearly 55 percent of all deadly overdoses.

Out of the cocaine deaths, 65 percent involved fentanyl. And 46.5 percent of all methamphetamine overdoses involved fentanyl.

"You never know what you're getting when you buy on the illicit market," Bickel said.

The problem is a very real one for Southwest Virginia. Roanoke city and Martinsville had the highest percentage of drug overdose deaths compared to the population.

"There's a greater prevalence of drug dependence issues in lower socioeconomic status areas in people that have limited economic or educational opportunities," Bickel said.

Next is Franklin and Henry counties followed by other surrounding areas.

"Many, many people are dying every year," Bickel said.

Dr. Bickel said the problem is widespread across demographics and families in lower, middle and upper classes. He also said it isn't just about one specific drug or another. There's an overall addiction problem in America.

"Although I think Roanoke is a wonderful place, obviously some issues that need to be addressed in the city as well as the whole southwest," Bickel said.

To learn more about addiction resources in the Roanoke valley, contact the HOPE Initiative online or by calling 540-339-9010.


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