Opioid addiction is a growing national epidemic, and Prince William County isn’t immune to the problem. With more people dying from opioid drug overdoses than ever before, County staff updated the Board of County Supervisors on the toll this drug crisis is taking locally.
“The opioid epidemic is a crisis,” noted Prince William Police Chief Barry Barnard. “We need to talk about it, and we need to address it. We need to educate the community and find solutions to help those who are addicted to opioids.”
Opioids are pain killers that fall into two categories: prescription pain killers (like morphine and oxycodone) and illicit drugs like heroin. Once opioids enter the blood stream, they adhere to the brain receptors to produce a sense of euphoria. This sensation is highly addictive and creates a physiological dependency that is very difficult for people to overcome.
From 2007 to 2015, opioids made up 70-75 percent of all fatal drug overdoses in Virginia. The presentation showed that the number of people in Prince William County who overdosed and required advanced life support increased from 187 in 2007 to 498 in 2016. In 2012, there were a total of 37 deaths in the county caused by opioid overdoses; in 2016, there were 52.
This growing epidemic affects all races, ages and socio-economic classes. The most common age of those to whom Prince William County responds is adults and children ages 16-30 (39% of responses). The second largest age group are individuals age 31-45 (31%). Of all overdoses treated by Fire and Rescue, nearly 66% are white, 25% black, 5.6% Hispanic, and 3% other race/ethnicity.
“Overdose is just one element of the health risks of opioid addiction,” said Dr. Alison Ansher, Public Health Director. “The sharing of unclean needles with certain opiates, such as heroin, is a major contributor to the spread of blood-borne diseases such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV.”
To begin addressing the issue, Prince William County has a number of agencies, including Police, Fire and Rescue, Social Services, Community Services, Criminal Justice Services, Commonwealth Attorney’s, the Adult and Juvenile Detention centers, and the Virginia Department of Health-Prince William Health District, working together to battle the opioid epidemic by running education and awareness programs, as well as harm reduction programs.
There is also a need for treatment for those suffering from opioid addiction. The Community Services Board offers a Rapid Entry Program that provides assistance to people within two to three days of their first contact with first responders. The program aims to help people who are using opioids receive treatment as quickly as possible.
Finally, there is a need for better regulations on opioid prescriptions. The Virginia General Assembly has legislation pending this year that would aid local jurisdictions in fighting the epidemic. One new law would prohibit doctors from prescribing more than a seven-day supply of opioids with exceptions for cancer and chronic pain. Other legislation would require electronic prescriptions for opioids to reduce prescription fraud.
“People are dying, both adults and children, as a result of this epidemic,” said Woodbridge District Supervisor Frank Principi. “We need to make sure we do things differently if we are going to address this issue.” Look for updates as the County evolves its policies and treatment resources to stem the tide of opioid use. Worried that somebody you know may be abusing opioids? Read these 5 signs of painkiller abuse, and