As fatal drug overdoses continue to rise in Virginia, new record could be set this year

A needle used for heroin injection lies in the woods off Jeff Davis Highway in Richmond.
A needle used for heroin injection lies in the woods off Jeff Davis Highway in Richmond.(Julia Rendleman)
Published: Nov. 29, 2021 at 7:41 AM EST
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Virginia is headed toward another record number of drug overdose deaths, which experts blame on social isolation and stress associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and widespread trafficking of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid.

Drug deaths in the commonwealth increased 22 percent during the first half of this year compared with the corresponding period of 2020, according to the latest report from the state medical examiner’s office.

The report projects that about 2,620 Virginians will die from overdoses of fentanyl, cocaine, heroin, prescription opioids, methamphetamine and other drugs in 2021 — a 13 percent increase from the previous year. And that comes after a 42 percent increase in fatal overdoses from 2019 to 2020.

“It’s kind of a terrifying time,” said Kathrin “Rosie” Hobron, the Virginia Department of Health’s statewide forensic epidemiologist, who compiled the statistics. “Until we control the fentanyl crisis, I just really don’t see our numbers going down at all.”

The rising number of drug deaths represents the continuation of a trend that started in 2010 when 690 Virginians died of drug overdoses. Back then, the state recorded about two drug fatalities a day. Now the average daily toll is more than seven.

In 2013, drug overdoses passed guns and motor vehicle collisions as the leading cause of “unnatural death” in Virginia. In 2020 and so far this year, drug fatalities have exceeded the combined total of firearm and traffic deaths.


.(Virginia Mercury)

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.

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