No opioid deaths here yet

But Rappahannock responders stay busy reviving residents

President Donald Trump declared the opioid addiction crisis a national emergency last week, following the recommendation of a commission he had appointed which estimated that 142 Americans a day are dying from drug overdoses. About two-thirds of those are from opioids, including prescription painkillers, heroin, and the even more potent drug, fentanyl.

The epidemic has been particularly devastating in rural communities. Last year, at least 1,420 people in Virginia died from drug overdoses, making it the fourth year that drugs have topped motor vehicle accidents and gun-related incidents as the leading cause of unnatural deaths in the state.

To date, no deaths directly attributed to an opioid overdose have been reported here.

But there have been some close calls. EMTs from community rescue crews as well as deputies from the sheriff’s department have had to use Narcan, a brand name for the drug naloxone, which is effective as an opiate antidote.

The overall use of Narcan in the county is not tracked, but, according to the sheriff’s department and the county fire and rescue squads, at least 20 doses of the medication have been administered so far this year. That does not mean that it has been used to revive 20 different people, or that it has only been used for drug overdoses. Sometimes, multiple doses are needed to revive a person, or it has been used on different occasions for the same person. Also, EMTs don’t always know if the patients they treat with Narcan are unconscious as the result of a drug overdose.

“Narcan isn’t solving the problem,” said Sallie Morgan, director of the Mental Health Association of Fauquier County. “It’s just keeping the person alive to work on their problem.”

Treatment options for those addicted to opioids in the region are limited, particularly for teenagers and young adults, she acknowledged. But she said she’s beginning to see some progress. For instance, more funding has become available for “medication-assisted treatment,” in which patients are prescribed an alternate opioid known as suboxone.

“The opioid addiction crisis has galvanized the whole conversation about substance abuse,” she said. “There’s still a problem with alcohol and other drugs, but this has really gotten people’s attention.”

If the opioid situation here worsens, it could bring repercussions related to Rappahannock’s demographic mix, according to Crystal Hale, director of the county’s Department of Social Services. She raised the prospect of addiction problems that could result in children needing to be removed from the homes of their parents.

“We try to help these families, and we have great resources in this community of people wanting to help,” she said. ”But one thing we lack are foster homes. I think we have one foster home right now. The split in demographics here is such that we don’t really have a lot of the middle-class people who tend to step up and offer to be foster homes.

“What that can mean is that a child who has to be removed from his or her family has to go outside the community. We have to pluck them out of their homes and drop them into huge schools and communities that are so different from this special place. And that’s traumatic for those kids.”

— Randy Rieland

About Randy Rieland 27 Articles
Randy Rieland was a newspaper and magazine writer and editor for more than 20 years, including 12 years as senior editor for The Washingtonian magazine. He also has more than 20 years of experience in digital media, including serving as SVP of Digital Media for the Discovery Channel. He and his wife, Carol, have owned a home off Tiger Valley Road for more than 10 years.