Deadly overdoses down in Virginia; experts warn fight against addiction is not over

Deadly overdoses down in Virginia; experts warn fight against addiction is not over
The number of fatal drug overdoses in Virginia decreased by more than 50 people in 2018, the first drop since 2012.

ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ/GRAY TV) - Inside the Bradley Free Clinic, Christine Baldwin may not wear hope on her sleeve, but practically everywhere else.

She wears a shirt that has the word “hope” written on it, a “hope” necklace and a pile of “hope” rocks sitting in her office.

“And I even have a tattoo,” said Baldwin.

Baldwin spent 15 years in active addiction. She started using at age 12. Understanding both sides, Baldwin found her calling working with the Roanoke Valley Hope Initiative as a Peer Recovery Specialist.

"There was definitely a point in time where I felt very hopeless and didn't see a way out,” said Baldwin. “So to be able to spread hope, is very near and dear to my heart.”

It is why she was happy to read the most recent report from the Virginia Department of Health: a glimmer of hope shining through the data.

According to the report, released in April, the number of fatal drug overdoses decreased by more than 50 people in 2018. It is the first time there has been a dip in the number since 2012.

“Everything we are fighting for, it is having an effect,” said Baldwin, but she also said the fight is far from over.

"It is a great thing if fewer people die, but it doesn't mean that fewer people are using opiates,” said Juliana Frosch with Horizon Behavioral Health in Central Va.

Frosch credits the drop in deaths to more prevention options and Narcan accessibility, but agree that there is still more work to be done. She says the need for treatment has not decreased.

"Oh absolutely not, we have constant need and it grows,” said Frosch.

Both Horizon and the Hope Initiative pointed to another finding in the report: a more than 40 percent increase in Methamphetamine overdoses.

Baldwin says in order to help more people feel the hope that she has, providers will have to shift the focus from one drug to an overall disease.

"Since we are starting to make an impact, now is the time to really buckle down, strap on the gear and really start making a difference in tackling addiction as a whole and not just the battle on opioids,” said Baldwin.

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