Overdose deaths soar in Virginia in 2020

Posted at 2:49 PM, Dec 22, 2020

NORFOLK, Va. - More than 2,000 people are predicted to die by drug overdoses in Virginia in 2020, the highest number ever.

"Overall, 2020 is looking like we're having a dramatic increase in overdoses since the pandemic began," said Rosie Hobron, a state forensic epidemiologist with the Virginia Department of Health.

The biggest culprit is fentanyl. The opioid was responsible for nearly 80% of fatal drug overdoses in the second quarter of this year. The drug is often mixed with other drugs like cocaine or heroin.

The overdose numbers are a sharp turn in Virginia. Just two years ago, the number of overdose deaths had dropped for the first time in several years, but that progress has now been erased.

"These are statistics. These are numbers, but you have to remember these are people and family members, and a lot of people are struggling," said Hobron.

Experts say the increase is attributable to the pandemic as many as stressed out, anxious and looking for ways to cope. "Anecdotally, we're hearing that folks are lonely. They're isolated. They're scared. There's COVID fatigue, and they're just sort of trying to cope with it with any means they can," said Kurt Hooks, the CEO of the Virginia Beach Psychiatric Center.

Hooks says while the numbers are sad, the real problem is even worse. "We're just scratching the surface in what we're seeing in terms of people reaching out for help versus those that are very in crisis levels for substance use disorders," he said.

For those struggling, advocates say there are plenty of resources to get help. "There's way too much shame and stigma around substance use disorders," said Hooks. "Just reach out and there are folks are stand ready to help."