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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.

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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.

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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.

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Real ID deadline extended until 2021 amid coronavirus outbreak

The deadline for Real IDs has been extended until October 2021. The move was prompted by widespread Department of Motor Vehicle customer service center closures during the coronavirus pandemic, the Department of Homeland Security said Thursday.

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By Hannah Eason

The deadline for Real IDs has been extended until October 2021. The move was prompted by widespread Department of Motor Vehicle customer service center closures during the coronavirus pandemic, the Department of Homeland Security said Thursday.

The deadline for the IDs was Oct. 1. After the deadline, the licenses will be required to access federal facilities, board domestic flights and enter nuclear power plants.

The application process must be completed in person, but Virginia has closed DMV customer service centers until April 2 to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. DMV closures and restricted access nationwide will prevent people from receiving Real IDs. Gov. Ralph Northam added a 60-day extension to any license or registration expiring before May 15.

“The federal, state and local response to the spread of the Coronavirus here in the United States necessitates a delay in this deadline,” acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf said in a news release. “Our state and local partners are working tirelessly with the Administration to flatten the curve and, therefore, we want to remove any impediments to response and recovery efforts.”

A regular driver’s license can still be used for driving, voting and verifying identity. Real IDs are marked by a black or gold star symbol in the top-right corner of the license.

The Real ID application process requires multiple forms of identity, such as:

  • U.S. passport or birth certificate

  • Social security card or W-2 form displaying social security number

  • Two of the following: valid Virginia driver’s license, recent utility bills, mortgage statements or leasing agreements

  • Proof of name changes if applicable

Non-U.S. citizens must show proof of identification and legal presence, such as an unexpired passport and visa, permanent resident card or employment authorization document. Virginians who do not have a Real ID must have federally accepted identification, such as a passport, to board a domestic flight or enter a secured federal facility.

Farmville resident Ethan Bowman, who was left unemployed by the coronavirus outbreak when he was unable to start a new political marketing job, has not received a Real ID but said an extension will help him.

“I don’t have a copy of my birth certificate,” Bowman said. “So I would have to get that somehow before the deadline.”

Right now, there are other things on Bowman’s mind. He said his two roommates are out of work due to the pandemic, and the two grocery stores in the town of 8,000 were low on food Wednesday.

“We sent my cousin out for food and he just sent a bunch of pictures back to our little group chat, and it was just empty shelves, everywhere,” Bowman said of the Walmart Supercenter in Farmville.

Casey Tharpe, a respiratory therapy major at Radford University Carilion, received a Real ID in January after an eight-hour day of computer issues at the DMV in South Boston.

“You just had to check this box for Real ID, but honestly I really have no use whatsoever for Real ID,” Tharpe said. “I’ve been on a plane once in my life.”

Wolf stated that extending the deadline would also allow the Department of Homeland Security to work with Congress and implement the “needed changes to expedite the issuance of Real IDs.”

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Live Updates: Ongoing list and information on Richmond area institution and event closures, postponements

With new information and cancellations coming in by the hour, the below is our attempt to keep you up to date on the latest Richmond area closures, cancellations, and community information, with links to relevant resources for more. We’ll continue to update this article as we learn more. Feel free to leave your own in the comments or email to [email protected]

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Government & Community Organizations

Restaurants/Breweries

Please note that this list is rapidly changing and we’re doing our best to keep it updated but we will at time have some outdated information. Please let us know if there has been a change.

In the interest of public health and safety, the administration of Mayor Levar Stoney recommends that all restaurants, bars, and other establishments that serve food and drink within city limits eliminate bar seating, move tables at least six feet apart and limit their on-site service to 50 percent of their normal capacity. If 50 percent of capacity exceeds the CDC-recommended limit of 50 people gathered, establishments should limit their service to 50 or fewer patrons. The recommendation does not affect any restaurant’s capacity to offer carryout and delivery. In order to support the residents and businesses of Richmond, the administration will introduce on March 23 an ordinance outlining a city amnesty program for all penalties and interest on most local taxes due between March 13 and June 30, 2020. This proposed program will exclude personal property taxes on vehicles, motor vehicle license taxes, and vehicle license fees, as required by ordinance. The city is also exploring options for a program to issue small, no-interest loans to support small businesses. More information on this will be provided at a later date.

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Barker Field, Chimborazo, and Northside Dog Parks will Close to the Public

Effective Saturday, March 28, 2020, PRCF will close Barker Field, Chimborazo, and the Northside Dog Parks to the public until further notice.

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Statement from Parks and Recreation:

The Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities (PRCF) continues to take the safety and health of our patrons as a top priority. Previously, PRCF cancelled all permitted use of the athletic fields, picnic shelters, park houses, all department sponsored programs and activities, and all community centers and offices to the general public.

Effective Saturday, March 28, 2020, PRCF will close Barker Field, Chimborazo, and the Northside Dog Parks to the public until further notice. Also, traffic gates located within Byrd Park on Strollers Lane, Westover Road, and Trafford Road will be closed on both Saturday and Sunday until further notice. This closure is aimed to reduce vehicle traffic within the park and allow patrons more space to move around.

All other PRCF parks and trails remain open. Be advised that our outdoor amenities are not sanitized, so use with caution and follow the CDC health and safety guidelines. We reiterate the importance of social distancing and avoiding gatherings of more than 10 people and group activities.

We understand the importance of the park system to our residents and will re-evaluate the need for closures and cancellations as this unprecedented situation evolves.

Staff at PRCF’s Administrative Office will be available to assist residents via phone at 804-646-5733 or email at [email protected]

For more information about how the City of Richmond is responding to COVID-19, please visit www.richmondgov.com/covid19.

For more information about the department, follow PRCF on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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