Drug addiction spikes in Shenandoah Valley


AUGUSTA COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) – Drug overdose deaths increased by nearly 30% in the United States in 2020, making the total number the highest on record of drug-related deaths.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the results on Wednesday, June 14. Officials say most of the deaths were linked to opioid abuse. Opioids include fentanyl, heroin, prescription opioids, and U-47799 (a synthetic opioid).

The Virginia Department of Health implemented REVIVE !, a program to provide training on how to recognize and respond to an opioid overdose emergency using naloxone. Naloxone is a prescription drug that reverses opioid overdoses.

The Farley Center says fatal drug overdose has been the leading cause of unnatural deaths in Virginia since 2013. Opioids are the cause of most of these deaths.

The CDC reported in November 2020 that 13% of Americans had started or increased use of substances, including legal or illegal drugs, alcohol, and prescriptions to cope with stress from the pandemic. Officials say this is linked to the recently reported increase in deaths.

Augusta Health’s chief emergency physician Dr Adam Rochman says he hasn’t seen a significant change in overdose deaths.

However, Natalie Broadnax, Gretchen McDaniel and Jennifer Brugh who work at opioid treatment centers in the Augusta County area, say they have seen an increase in cases.

“We know fentanyl is present in this community,” said Broadnax, owner of the Mid-Atlantic Recovery Center in Waynesboro. She said it is important to know that opioid abuse is a problem in the Shenandoah Valley.

“Things got a lot worse,” said Broadnax. She adds that she was not surprised to learn that overdose deaths are on the rise.

Jennifer Brugh, program director at Staunton Treatment Center, says she saw the same pattern.

“Overdoses are not something that we have to see a lot, but I will say that we have had a few patients who have overdosed in the past year,” Brugh said.

Both say it’s not just an increase in deaths, but overall usage. They said it can affect any person, family or community.

“It’s not just about targeting an age group or socioeconomic status,” said Broadnax.

They most often see fentanyl appear during drug tests.

“The main cause of [the increase], I think, is the increase in fentanyl, ”Brugh said. Fentanyl is more common, she says, to find on the street or in a doctor’s office.

Usually, however, the patient is unaware that they have taken fentanyl.

“Someone can say, ‘here’s a Percocet,’ and it looks like a regular pharmaceutical. It’s a rush pill, ”Broadnax said.

Both say they had to tell patients that they had taken the drug because it is usually combined with other drugs.

“We have had tears from patients because they are trying to get better for their children, and the thought that they didn’t know fentanyl was present is really distressing,” said Broadnax.

With the increase in deaths, many professionals are wondering why. The two treatment centers saw several reasons.

“Higher rates of mental health problems during the pandemic for everyone, not just the drug addict population,” Brugh suggested.

“Unstructured time and social isolation” are two reasons, suggested Broadnax, that explain why many people have fallen into bad habits.

She says people undergoing treatment were unable to see health care providers in person, which hampered their recovery.

“Seeing someone once every two weeks, once a month … for people who are so fragile, is not enough,” said Broadnax.

Although the pandemic played a big role in the increase, it is not the only reason. Broadnax says the problem facing a lot of his patience is financial.

“Knowing that money is a barrier to processing is frustrating,” said Broadnax.

“We have a waiting list of patients who are not on treatment at all, and they cannot start treatment until they have received Medicaid,” she said. Broadnax says she requested that her clinic be covered by Medicaid, but she has not received a response.

It’s been four months.

“Patients pay out of pocket, and I have done my best to make it affordable, because it is necessary.

Brugh suggests that anyone struggling with an addiction contact “Strength in Peers” in Harrisonburg. Brugh says it’s a harm reduction group, which can provide fentanyl test strips, HIV testing, peer counseling, needle exchange, among other services.

They work with people struggling with addictions, mental illness and trauma.

You can also call the SAMHSA National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

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