Connect with us

Government

New data indicates record drug overdose deaths projected in Virginia

After a spike in deaths during the first half of the year, Virginia officials are projecting a record number of drug overdose fatalities in 2019.

Capital News Service

Published

on

By Eric Everington

After a spike in deaths during the first half of the year, Virginia officials are projecting a record number of drug overdose fatalities in 2019.

Data released Friday by Virginia’s chief medical examiner shows a big increase in deaths between January and June from overdoses of methamphetamine, heroin and fentanyl, a synthetic prescription painkiller.

As a result, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner expects total drug fatalities in 2019 to approach 1,550 — a 4% jump from the previous year.

Fentanyl, which is more lethal than heroin and cocaine, is often combined with street drugs. “By late 2013 and early 2014, some heroin being sold on the street was actually completely fentanyl unbeknownst to the user,” the office said in its latest quarterly report. “Fentanyl caused or contributed to death in nearly 55% of all fatal overdoses in 2018.”

During the first half of 2019, Fairfax County and the city of Richmond had the most drug deaths in the state — 49. Most of Richmond’s overdoses involved heroin and fentanyl, which is often produced overseas and trafficked into the U.S.

“We saw drug overdoses and drug-related deaths really rise when we started to notice more and more fentanyl in toxicology reports in 2015,” said Capt. Emmett Williams of the Richmond Police Department. “The thing that is causing these overdoses is fentanyl being mixed with drugs like cocaine and heroin.”

Just a pinch of fentanyl can be deadly, Williams said. “About 35% of seized drugs in Richmond have trace amounts of fentanyl mixed in with it,” he said.

Authorities say one of the main ways fentanyl enters the U.S. is by street dealers ordering the drug on the internet’s “dark web” and having it delivered through the mail.

“We’re developing technology in package screening to detect fentanyl coming through the post office to combat the issue,” William said. “Fentanyl is also being shipped to Mexico and being trafficked across the border into the U.S. from there.”

In 2012, only 50 drug overdose deaths in Virginia involved fentanyl. That number jumped to 624 in 2016, 770 in 2017 and 813 last year.

Between Jan. 1 and June 30 of this year, the medical examiner said, 441 people died in Virginia from fentanyl overdoses. That compared with 371 such deaths during the first half of 2018.

The medical examiner projects that fentanyl will contribute to 883 deaths in the state in 2019.

Deaths involving heroin are expected to rise from 556 last year to 585 this year. And the medical examiner projects that fatalities involving methamphetamine will increase from 127 in 2018 to 152 this year.

Overall, the number of drug overdose fatalities in the commonwealth has gone from 799 in 2012 to a record high of 1,536 in 2017. The death toll dropped slightly to 1,485 last year. With the recent upswing in drug overdose deaths, the medical examiner’s office projects Virginia will hit a new record of 1,547 in 2019.

Kathrin Hobron, a forensic epidemiologist with the Virginia Department of Health, said a multifaceted approach is needed to address the problem.

Besides putting an emphasis on law enforcement, she said, there should be an emphasis on drug treatment. “Other than focusing on opioids or one drug, we should be focusing on the addiction of drugs and helping drug addicts get off drugs,” Hobron said.

Comments

comments

The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Crime

City to provide grants to businesses damaged during recent civil unrest

“Though many protests have been peaceful, sporadic nights of severe property damage have hurt our small business community,” said Mayor Stoney. “These grants will help those establishments get back on their feet and send a message to the owners and employees of those businesses that they’re heard, they’re valued and we’re in this together.”

RVAHub Staff

Published

on

The City of Richmond has recommended that City Council allocate $500,000 to create the Business Recovery Grant Program. Under this new, one-time program, grants will be awarded to eligible local businesses, non-profit organizations, and commercial property owners to recover costs from damage during recent demonstrations within city limits.

“Though many protests have been peaceful, sporadic nights of severe property damage have hurt our small business community,” said Mayor Stoney. “These grants will help those establishments get back on their feet and send a message to the owners and employees of those businesses that they’re heard, they’re valued and we’re in this together.”

The grants will be a reimbursement of expenses paid to repair property destruction during the recent civil unrest.  This could include window repair, graffiti removal and more. The maximum grant award is $10,000 for a single commercial property address.

The city’s Commercial Area Revitalization Effort (CARE) Program is the proposed funding source for the one-time grant program. The normal CARE Program grants will not be impacted by the creation of the one-time grant program.

If funding for the Business Recovery Grant Program is approved during the August 10, 2020 City Council meeting, the program guidelines will be posted on the city website and applications can be submitted electronically starting August 13.

Comments

comments

Continue Reading

Crime

City introduces ordinance to prohibit firearms adjacent to events requiring permitting

Currently, the code bans firearms in city-owned and -operated parks and facilities. The newly introduced ordinance would also prohibit the possession, carrying, or transportation of any firearms in any public street, road, alley, sidewalk, public right-of-way, or any open public space when it is being used by, or is adjacent to, an event that requires a city permit. 

RVAHub Staff

Published

on

At the August 10 meeting of the Richmond City Council, the Stoney administration introduced an ordinance to modify current Richmond City Code section 19-334.1; Carrying Firearms in Certain Places.

Currently, the code bans firearms in city-owned and -operated parks and facilities. The newly introduced ordinance would also prohibit the possession, carrying, or transportation of any firearms in any public street, road, alley, sidewalk, public right-of-way, or any open public space when it is being used by, or is adjacent to, an event that requires a city permit.

This ordinance does not broadly ban firearms in these public spaces. Rather, it bans firearms when a permitted event, or an event that should be permitted, is taking place.

The expansion to the existing ordinance is intended to promote the health and safety of event attendees and city residents as a whole.

“The City of Richmond proudly hosts hundreds of public events each year, but I believe it’s in the interest of everyone’s safety to take guns out of these spaces when neighbors, visitors and families gather,” said Mayor Stoney. “Under this proposed change, Richmond residents will be able to attend public events with a greater sense of security, knowing that the city is actively prioritizing their safety.”

In 2019, the mayor introduced the ordinance that prohibits the carrying of firearms in city-owned and -operated parks and facilities. As soon as the General Assembly adopted legislation granting that authority to localities, the ordinance went into effect.

This most recent proposed change is also made possible by a recent amendment by the Virginia General Assembly to the Code of Virginia, which now authorizes localities to prohibit firearms in this instance.

“As a city, we must exhaust all possible options to reduce gun violence in our communities and neighborhoods,” said Mayor Stoney. “I’m thankful the state has finally given us a vital tool in building a safer Richmond.”

The proposed ordinance, which must be approved by Richmond City Council to take effect, does not apply to authorized military personnel in the performance of their lawful duties, law enforcement officers or security guards contracted or employed by the City of Richmond.

Comments

comments

Continue Reading

Downtown

VDH launches first of its kind contact tracing app to help stop the spread of COVID-19

Virginia is the first state in the country to design a COVID-19 app using Bluetooth Low Energy technology developed by Apple and Google, which does not rely on personal information or location data. Users opt-in to download and utilize the free app.

RVAHub Staff

Published

on

Governor Ralph Northam on Wednesday announced the launch of COVIDWISE, an innovative exposure notification app that will alert users if they have been in close contact with an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19. Virginia is the first state in the country to design a COVID-19 app using Bluetooth Low Energy technology developed by Apple and Google, which does not rely on personal information or location data. Users opt-in to download and utilize the free app.

“We must continue to fight COVID-19 from every possible angle,” Governor Northam said in a news release. “The COVIDWISE exposure notification app gives you an additional tool to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your community while maintaining your personal privacy. I encourage all Virginians to download and use this app, so we can work together to contain this virus.”

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) developed COVIDWISE in partnership with Spring ML using funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. The free app is available to download through the App Store and the Google Play Store. COVIDWISE is the only app in Virginia allowed to use the exposure notifications system (ENS) application programming interface (API) jointly created by Apple and Google. Other countries, including Ireland and Germany, have successfully used this technology in similar apps.

“As COVID-19 cases continue to be identified across the Commonwealth, it is important for people to know whether they have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for the disease,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA. “COVIDWISE will notify you if you’ve likely been exposed to another app user who anonymously shared a positive COVID-19 test result. Knowing your exposure history allows you to self-quarantine effectively, seek timely medical attention, and reduce potential exposure risk. The more Virginians use COVIDWISE, the greater the likelihood that you will receive timely exposure notifications that lead to effective disease prevention.”

COVIDWISE works by using random Bluetooth keys that change every 10 to 20 minutes. iOS and Android devices that have the app installed will anonymously share these random keys if they are within close proximity for at least 15 minutes. Each day, the device downloads a list of all random keys associated with positive COVID-19 results submitted by other app users and checks them against the list of random keys it has encountered in the last 14 days. If there is a match, COVIDWISE may notify the individual, taking into account the date and duration of exposure, and the Bluetooth signal strength which is used to estimate proximity.

Individuals who test positive for COVID-19 will be notified by a VDH case investigator and will be given a unique numeric code. This code is entered into the app by the user and serves as verification of a positive report. Others who have downloaded COVIDWISE and have been in close proximity to the individual who reported as being positive will receive a notice which reads, “You have likely been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.” This is your alert to get tested.

The notice includes the estimated number of days since the exposure and provides several options for taking further action, including contacting a primary care physician or local health department, monitoring symptoms, and finding nearby test locations. The Virtual VDH tab within the app also provides links to online resources and relevant phone numbers.

Anyone who downloads the app has the option to choose to receive exposure notifications, and if a person is diagnosed with COVID-19, it is up to them whether or not to share their result anonymously through COVIDWISE. No location data or personal information is ever collected, stored, tracked, or transmitted to VDH as part of the app. Users have the ability to delete the app or turn off exposure notifications at any time.

Officials say widespread use is critical to the success of this effort, and VDH is launching a robust, statewide public information campaign to make sure Virginians are aware of the COVIDWISE app, its privacy protection features, and how it can be used to support public health and help reduce the spread of the virus.

To learn more about COVIDWISE and download the app, visit www.covidwise.org.

Comments

comments

Continue Reading

Richmond Weather