From 2007 to September, more than 10,000 drug overdose deaths occurred statewide. More than three-fourths of those deaths were opioid overdoses, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

From 2007 to 2017, 72 people died of opioid overdose in Franklin County. In 2017, eight of 11 drug deaths were opioid overdoses. That is twice the total from 2007. Fatal drug overdose has been the leading method of unnatural death in Virginia since 2013, according to the Health Department. The top three causes of unnatural death are car crashes, shootings and fatal drug overdoses.

“This is an addiction crisis,” said Rosie Hobron, statewide forensic epidemiologist at the state Health Department. “Addiction needs to be tackled from all providers.”

Fatal overdoses statewide reached a record high in the third quarter of last year, according to preliminary data.

Fatal opioid overdoses were highest during the third quarter of 2018 at 351, statewide, according to the state Health Department.

The projected total deaths for last year is nearly the same as the number from 2017. Final numbers for 2018 have not yet been released. The opioid epidemic reaches much further than the 70-plus who have died during the past decade. So many more people have struggled with substance use disorder and still are struggling with it. There are beds filled in the hospitals right now with people who are suffering from a myriad of conditions including Hepatitis C, heart problems, abscesses and others due to opioid abuse. There are children being affected, both unborn and youth.

Grandparents are suddenly raising their grandchildren due to opioid addiction. Children are attending school with basic needs not being met, leaving the school system to pick up the pieces and meet those needs so students can focus on learning.

Law enforcement is affected by the need to respond to overdoses while also making arrests in cases of drug possession or other crimes related to substance use.

Franklin County Sheriff Bill Overton said, “We cannot arrest ourselves out of this situation.”

The Sheriff’s Office responded to 77 overdoses in 2017 and 79 in 2018. A total of 51 doses of Narcan were administered in 26 incidents. Responders saved people from death in 19 of those cases. Narcan, also known as Naloxone, is a medication designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdose. It can be administered via a nasal spray or as an injection.

As Overton and Hobron explained, this is a multi-faceted problem and there is no one answer. This is an all-hands-on-deck crisis that might be on its way to improving, which is why The Franklin News-Post is continuing to shed a light on the opioid epidemic. When it comes to opioids, substance use disorder knows no demographics. It knows no age, no gender, no social class, no income level, no profession, no discerning factors whatsoever.

The newspaper will be publishing a series of stories, starting with one in this edition to focus on the epidemic, bring light to ripple effects of substance use disorder and identify available resources.

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