Virginia overdose numbers projected to top previous year

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — New numbers from the Virginia Department of Health show opioid addiction is only getting worse.

VDH released its Fatal Drug Overdose Quarterly Report for the first part of 2017. In the first three months of this year, 377 people died of drug overdose in the Commonwealth. That’s up 15 from the same time last year.

“I’m not surprised at the increase and I’m actually a little bit relieved that it wasn’t bigger,” said Dr. James Thompson, CEO and founder of The Virginia Center for Addiction Medicine (VCAM).

Thompson opened his clinic in Henrico County about 10 months ago. He said getting people to seek treatment is the biggest hurdle. That’s why he tries to make it a seamless process for patients.

“We felt like there needed to be a different way to do this. There must be something we can do better to not only get better results from treatment but also get more people into treatment,” he said.

VCAM is an outpatient facility with multiple treatment tools under one roof. Thompson plans to expand later this year.

“The thing that has surprised me the most has been the size of the need, the amount of need, the demand,” he said.

Thompson suspects the only way we will see the numbers start to come down statewide is if there is a “massive” increase in the amount of treatment available.

The new data shows opioids are still the driving force of overdose deaths in Virginia. The use of prescription opiates is down, but heroin is up.

Thompson said drug makers are often mixing in highly potent, deadly synthetics.

“It shows an even greater degree of disregard for human life among those who traffic in these drugs,” he said. “It makes it so that heroin use at any time — a single use, a single relapse — is potentially deadly.”

This week, the commission studying opioids at the national level is urging President Donald Trump to declare a state of emergency.

“We urge you to mandate, with federal assistance, that naloxone be in the hands of every law enforcement officer in the United States,” commission members wrote in a letter to the president.

They believe it will help save lives.