Opioid deaths declared a public health crisis in Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) – The opioid crisis in Virginia is only getting worse. According to data from the Virginia Department of Health, for more than the past six years, emergency department visits for unintentional opioid overdoses have been on the rise.

In 2015, there were more than 7,736 annual overdose visits. That number has climbed steadily to nearly 11,000 total last year.

Since the end of February this year, there have been 1,583 emergency opioid overdose visits in central Virginia.

Sixty people died from overdoses in Richmond in 2019, but that number more than doubled to 155 just a year later in the first year of the pandemic.

The data does not detail fentanyl overdoses specifically.

In response to the growing number of deaths and hospitalizations, Richmond City Council voted to declare opioid drug overdose deaths a public health crisis last month.

“By declaring a public health crisis, one, we shift the stigma of substance abuse disorder from a moral failing to understanding that it’s a complex disease. And by doing that, it opens up more resources,” said Substance Abuse and Addiction Recovery Alliance of Virginia Executive director Victor McKenzie.

At this time, the declaration does not bring access to increased funds or resources. Still, Virginia is expected to receive $530 million from opioid distributors to fund operations around the state.

In Richmond, the health department will launch the Metro-Richmond Spike Alert to let people know about overdose issues and resources.

The VDH is encouraging folks to call or text 804-592-8069 for access to Narcan, which can potentially reverse the effects of an overdose. You can also be directed to other resources provided by the VDH with that same number.

Copyright 2022 WWBT. All rights reserved.

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