Opioid abuse takes lives. The opioid epidemic continues to ravage communities across the region, Virginia and the United States. From 1999 to 2017, almost 218,000 people in the U.S. died from overdoses related to prescription opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—that’s a little less than the city of Richmond’s population.
On Sept. 18, the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s 78th Public Square convened the community to talk about how the Richmond region is working together to overcome this scourge. Local health, government and law enforcement officials spotlighted their work on drawing attention to the widespread blight. A noteworthy regional effort—OpioidSolutionsRVA.com—brings together the city of Richmond and the counties of Hanover, Henrico and Chesterfield to raise awareness and promote resources to help aid recovery, and complements local initiatives underway. Community advocates and many enrolled in addiction programs also shared at the Public Square how they’re confronting the epidemic.
The four localities saw nearly a four-fold spike in the number of deadly opioid overdoses between 2010 and 2018, Virginia Department of Health data show. In 2016, Virginia declared the opioid addiction crisis a public health emergency. Since 2013, drug overdoses have been the leading cause of unnatural death in the commonwealth, according to the office of Gov. Ralph Northam. Nearly 1,500 people in Virginia died as a result of drug overdoses last year—and 80 percent of those fatalities involved prescription opioid painkillers, heroin or synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.
So we were glad to learn that Northam has extended the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Opioids and Addiction by an additional year. The 27-member commission, established last year, includes state and local government officials, law enforcement, medical experts and citizens.
“We have taken substantive steps forward to address the growing opioid and addiction epidemic in our commonwealth, but the reality is that this remains a public health emergency that continues to have devastating impacts to people and families across Virginia,” Northam, a pediatric neurologist, said in a statement on Thursday.
Fighting opioid abuse requires concerted efforts on local, state and national levels as well as active involvement from across our communities. The epidemic won’t end until we all step up.