Deadly overdoses rise as pandemic surges in Virginia

Illegal fentanyl is safely handled and contained.(Getty Images/iStockphoto/Darwin Brandis)
The year 2020 in Virginia will be remembered for the hundreds of thousands of infections and thousands of deaths that resulted from the coronavirus. But for countless other families, it also will be the year they lost a loved one to a drug overdose.

If the trend continues, a report from the Virginia Department of Health suggests 2020 could end up as the state’s worst year for fatal drug overdoses on record.

An October report on fatal overdoses indicates Virginia is on pace to surpass more than 2,000 deaths throughout the year, after setting a record in 2019 with 1,626.

Before 2015, Virginia had never documented over 1,000 overdose deaths in a single year. But 2020 could more than double that.

CLICK ON GRAPH TO ENLARGE: Drug overdoses overtook motor vehicle crashes and gun-related incidents as the leading cause of unnatural death among Virginians between 2012 and 2013, and they continue to rise sharply. (Courtesy VDH)

The second quarter of 2020 proved especially deadly. VDH recorded 634 deaths by drug overdose between April and June, when pandemic-related restrictions and shut downs first took effect — an increase in deaths observed all over the state, from Virginia’s populous cities to rural regions.

Opioids proved to be the deadliest category of drugs, by far. The single drug most responsible for the most number of deaths continues to be fentanyl, which has seen a dramatic rise in use, and skyrocketing deaths, in recent years.

The first half of 2020 saw more fentanyl-related deaths than observed in all of 2017, and every year prior. There were more fentanyl fatalities just between April and June than the state saw in all of 2013 through 2015 combined.

“The total number of fatal fentanyl-related drug overdoses has sharply increased since 2012; which coincides with the dramatic increase in fatal heroin overdoses,” the report said.

CLICK ON GRAPH TO ENLARGE: Here’s a look at fentanyl deaths in Virginia. (Courtesy VDH)

In contrast to 634 deaths in the second quarter, Virginia saw a total of 690 fatal overdoses in all of 2010, when drug-related overdoses started to rise in the Commonwealth.

If this rate holds, fatal drug overdoses are on track to account for nearly as many deaths as motor vehicle accidents and firearms combined.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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