ROANOKE, Va. – Alarming new numbers are shedding light on the ripple effects of the coronavirus pandemic on another public health crisis: addiction.
Nationwide, drug overdoses have surged during the pandemic and the Roanoke Valley is experiencing the same trend.
It’s a crisis within a crisis, affecting more of our neighbors than ever before.
“It could be in a bathroom in a restaurant downtown, it could be at an intersection in South Roanoke, it could be at a house in Northwest, it could be in a parking lot in old Southwest,” Roanoke Fire-EMS Chief David Hoback said.
Hoback is sounding the alarm about what’s become a routine call in the Star City.
“Sometimes we’ll pull up and we have two and three and four people that have overdosed and some of them are not breathing,” Hoback said.
Drug overdoses in Roanoke from 2019 to 2020 were up at least 25%. Roanoke Fire-EMS reported 639 last year.
“That’s just the ones they’re calling us on. Understand, we’re only getting once we get called where people are having medical problems. I can’t even imagine what is going on in our community through the stuff that we don’t get calls on,” Hoback said.
It’s a devastating problem fueled by the pandemic. Restrictions and isolation led to more problems and fewer resources to help.
“Being in recovery myself, and feeling fortunate enough to have found a way out, I couldn’t imagine going through all the processes and all the struggles that I went through during a time of COVID,” said Christine Baldwin, peer recovery services coordinator for the HOPE Initiative.
Organizations like the HOPE Initiative are getting creative to try to combat the crisis.
“As opposed to social distancing, referring to it as physical distancing to give that space to be safe from the virus but still remaining socially connected,” Baldwin said.
They’re also pushing for increased Narcan access, more resources and continued community partnerships.
“I think there is a light at the end of the tunnel for sure,” Baldwin said.
Hoback said overdose numbers appear to be leveling off so far this year.
Click here for information on resources to help people struggling with addiction.