New River Valley seeing a rise in drug overdoses amid coronavirus pandemic

‘It’s great to have [Narcan] in case you need it’

RADFORD, Va – As the coronavirus pandemic continues, public health leaders are dealing with a different issue.

Hospital visits caused by unintentional drug overdoses nearly doubled in the New River Valley in August.

“The social isolation caused by the pandemic, I think, has made it difficult for some people to cope,” said Mike Wade, the Community Wellness Coordinator with New River Valley Community Services.

Drug overdoses in Southwest Virginia are up 11% since the start of 2020, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

Wade said it’s not just prescription medication causing the problem.

“We know from speaking with some of our law enforcement partners that there is a presence of fentanyl, the highly potent opioid, that is in our communities and that seems to have a role in what we’re seeing with the recent overdoses,” explained Wade.

New River Health District Director Dr. Noelle Bissell said drugs are also starting to reach a younger age group in the area.

“Especially concerning was in our younger demographic, our 0 to 14 age group and our 15 to 19 age group. So one of the things that we’ve really tried to say is practicing physical distancing instead of social distancing,” said Bissell.

Trips to the hospital for overdoses climbed from 27 in July to 40 in August.

NRVCS is providing free narcan to the community to reverse the effects of an overdose and help save the lives of those battling addiction.

“Just as you would a fire extinguisher in case your house is on fire, it’s great to have it in case you need it,” Wade said.

As the pandemic continues, health officials want to remind those who may be struggling with addiction to reach out for help.

“Addiction does not discriminate, substance use disorders don’t care what your income level is, what your education levels are, where you went to school, who your parents are, they do not discriminate,” said Wade.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, you can view a full list of the services NRVCS offers here.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s nationwide hotline can be reached at 1-800-662-4357.

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