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Drug overdose deaths rising in Virginia during pandemic

Virginia Department of Health data shows significant increases in opioid-related overdoses and project a record number of overdose deaths in 2020

NORFOLK, Va. — Virginia Department of Health data shows a record number of Virginians overdosed on drugs during the second quarter of 2020, and experts tie the increase to pandemic-related effects, saying COVID-19 is making the opioid crisis worse.

VDH reports 634 fatal drug overdoses in the second quarter of 2020. That's the most overdose deaths recorded for any quarter in the last 14 years. 

VDH reported 380 overdose deaths in the second quarter of 2019.

Patrick Hartig, DEA Resident Agent in Charge out of the Norfolk office, said there’s a correlation between an increase in fatal drug overdoses and the coronavirus pandemic.

“Some of the triggers that lead to addiction and drug use, such as depression and anxiety and uncertainty and unemployment, we’re experiencing all of those right now in the community," Hartig said.

Hartig said overdoses in Hampton Roads were decreasing, but COVID-19 reversed that trend.

“We were making progress but when the pandemic hit things started to change," he said. "So it has to be a community approach and everyone has to do their part."

A big reason for the increase in overdose deaths include opioids such as fentanyl. VDH reports 482 fentanyl-related overdose deaths in the second quarter of 2020. That's more than double the 227 reported in the second quarter of 2019.

“The pandemic has created a new population of people who are using narcotics," Hartig said.

Hartig added these concerning statistics can be lost in all the news during the pandemic, but friends and family members need to be aware and check up on each other. He said outreach goes a long way.

“[They need to be] aware of how bad the problem is so we can work with the community to make it better," he said. “The law enforcement community, medical community and outreach community are all committed to confronting this challenge, but we have to work together to be successful.”