Addiction in northern Va. could be on the rise, but recovery ‘available for all people’

A new survey conducted by Inova Health Systems found that only about 5 to 10 percent of people struggling with addiction actually seek treatment for it. But with the number of people who say they know someone struggling with the disease on the rise, doctors in Northern Virginia are looking to change that.

The survey also showed that a little more than 32% of adults in Northern Virginia in 2022 said they know someone personally struggling with addiction — that’s up from 25% in 2021.

“Substance use disorders are a preventable and treatable condition. It’s important people realize that,” said Dr. Zeina Saliba, chief of the addiction and recovery services division for Inova. Saliba is also an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at George Washington University.

She said addiction is a chronic illness like many others, and that her life’s work is aimed at helping people open up about their struggles.

“We are working to educate, and just raise awareness about substance use disorders, about addiction, about the stigma that stops people from seeking or receiving lifesaving treatment,” Saliba told WTOP.

Saliba said it’s hard to judge from this data whether more people overall are actually addicted to substances like prescription drugs.

“At least there’s been an increase in more people who say they know somebody. That may mean people are more willing to talk about it,” she added.

Other data from the same Inova survey shows that more than 50% of people suffering from addiction have a fear of telling family and friends about their struggles.

“We need to figure out ways to make treatment more accessible,” Saliba said.

“In Virginia specifically, fatal drug overdose has been the leading cause of unnatural death for a decade,” she added. “And while more people might be willing to talk about it … at the same time, they’re not all comfortable with what to do about it. Like what’s the next step.“

She said they’re focused on getting people to that first step of treatment and beyond, which can be easier said than done.

“At Inova, we offer a variety of programs, with different levels of care,” she explained. “But there are also plenty of resources out there for people interested in getting help for themselves or a loved one.”

Saliba said the 988 hotline can be a good place to start. She also said SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association, offers great resources nationwide.

She also said Inova offers different levels of care and intervention, from a partial hospitalization program, intensive outpatient program and regular doctor visits.

That’s where Inova’s “Act on Addiction” campaign comes in. The program aims to provide more resources to those dealing with addiction and start a conversation about what loved ones can do to help.

Saliba said the Act on Addiction initiative, now in its fifth year, is one part of that care and intervention.

“This is an opportunity for us to focus on the fact that recovery is available for all people,” she said.

“Anyone out there who is listening can do something in support of helping someone or helping their community, at large. Combating addiction isn’t just the responsibility of direct family members or caregivers. Anyone can do their part,” she added.

Matt Kaufax

If there's an off-the-beaten-path type of attraction, person, or phenomenon in the DC area that you think more people should know about, Matt is your guy. As the features reporter for WTOP, he's always on the hunt for stories that provide a unique local flavor—a slice of life if you will.

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