Holidays may see a rising trend in opioid overdoses

Read the original LocalDVM article here.

Opioid-related overdoses may spike in the coming weeks, according to the Northern Shenandoah Valley Substance Abuse Coalition (NSVSAC), "For most of the year we've been doing better than we have in previous years," said executive director of the NSVSAC Lauren Cummings.

But she added, "in the past two weeks, we've seen an increase in overdoses. We've had three overdose deaths and then in the past month we've had 18 non-fatal overdoses."

It is important to note that when it comes to opioid-related overdose fatalities in 2018, the Northern Shenandoah Valley has recorded under half as many deaths as in 2017.

In 2017, Cummings said there were 40 fatal overdoses and 190 non-fatal ones in the region, and Christa Shifflett with the Warren County Health Coalition agrees that overall, the number of fatalities are decreasing.

The trend is visible in data provided by the Winchester Fire and Rescue Department on overdose calls and fatalities as well, although Shifflett wonders if the decrease in calls is related to the increasing availability of overdose-reversing drugs like nalaxone, also known as Narcan.

In 2016, the data shows first responders received 60 overdose calls with four fatalities, versus 79 calls in 2017 with six fatalities. Whereas in 2018, only 43 calls have been made, with four fatalities.

"Those numbers, I think, are deceiving," said Shifflett when reached by phone. She believes there may be a number of non-fatal overdoses that were never reported.

But Cummings says it's not the number that has her concerned, it's the cluster of three deaths and the time of year.

"We've seen an increase the past three years right around September 29 and then we see an increase right around November 14," she said. "We are right on track for that this year."

Cummings isn't sure why there's a spike in mid-November. She thinks it may have to do with the holidays, which co-founder of the Recovery Connection Meredith Speir agrees with.

"People that, you know, are broken and perhaps don't have their family or don't have friends, don't have healthy connections with people, they tend to get more depressed around the holiday-time," said Speir. "I feel that holidays are a really difficult time for those that struggle with substance use."

Of course, both women recognize the decrease is significant from 2017 to 2018.

"It's really amazing that we're seeing this decrease," said Speir. "I really feel that if we can continue to come together as a community and fight the epidemic that's currently taking place, if we can keep moving those efforts forward that we're gonna continue to see a decrease."

But they fear that while the rate of opioid overdoses is decreasing, the use of other drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, is increasing.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use, Cummings says this is the time to reach out for help. You can go to Road to Recovery's website to find resources in the Northern Shenandoah Valley.