by Savannah Webb-
The National Center for Health Statistics released 2022 data that shows a spike in fatal opioid overdoses in the US over the months of February and March.
“It’s devastating,” said Glenn Matthews, director of substance abuse and diversion services for New River Valley Community Services (NRVCS). “It’s just awful. It’s devastating economically, and it’s devastating to families. Fentanyl is at the center of a lot of those overdoses.”
The most recent drug overdose data from 2021 shows that Pulaski County — one of the five counties NRVCS serves — had the highest death rate in the NRV with 50.1 per 100,000 residents. Synthetic opioids, under which fentanyl is classified, were the cause of a majority of those deaths.
To combat these rising overdose rates, NRVCS offers a full continuum of care. According to Matthews, their services have a systemic and personalized nature that larger providers cannot accommodate for, ranging from an hourlong weekly therapy session to residential 24/7 care.
While this is extremely beneficial to the community, he explained that they cannot provide enough services for the demand necessary to treat the large number of individuals who need it.
“It’s a drop in the bucket,” Matthews said. “The large majority of individuals need to repeat that treatment six or seven times or more. It’s a long, long process.”
In addition to the intervention services — support groups, therapy and rehabilitation — NRVCS provides, preventative education and emergency training are also critical to ending the opioid epidemic, according to Ashley LeDuc, associate director of substance misuse prevention and intervention with Hokie Wellness.
One of the most prevalent emergency training programs is REVIVE! Opioid Overdose and Naloxone Education. The program teaches community members how to recognize and respond to a potentially fatal overdose.
“It’s the easiest way to save someone’s life,” LeDuc said. “To use Naloxone it really is just using nasal spray. Even if you aren’t trained, you can still use it — it’s one of the legal protections out there.”
Online REVIVE! training is available through NRVCS, and Hokie Wellness offers multiple in-person sessions as well. Hokie Wellness training sessions provide historical context about the opioid epidemic, as well as a sample of Naloxone, the overdose reversal drug, for trainees to take with them, according to LeDuc.
“It really is anybody that could experience an overdose,” LeDuc said. “You learn a lot about where opioid use disorder starts, which is with prescriptions that are given from doctors, and it works to destigmatize it.”
In addition to addiction itself, NRVCS hopes to use its services to address stigma in the community surrounding addiction.
“Addiction is not a choice,” Matthews said. “The only choice that’s involved in addiction is the first time someone picks up the substance. Once the brain gets addicted, choice is out the window. It is a serious illness.”