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Virginia’s Opioid Epidemic

By Juliana Frosch
Horizon Nurse Practitioner, Psychiatric Services


Deaths from opioid overdose have increased dramatically in Virginia in the last few years. Opiod narcotics kill more people in Virginia than guns or car crashes, and these deaths increased by about 40 percent last year. One of the major contributors to this problem is the widespread use of Fentanyl, and many users may not even know that they are using it. Fentanyl is mixed with heroin by drug dealers in increasing amounts. Fentanyl became the deadliest drug in Virginia last year, with more deaths attributed to it than to heroin and prescription painkillers.  Heroin use has surged since 2013 as prescription opioids became more expensive and harder to find.  Prescription opioid addicts found heroin to be cheaper and readily available.  However, many addicts are not aware that the heroin that they are buying on the street is mixed with Fentanyl, a very potent drug that increases the risk of overdose substantially.  Why is this happening?  The economics of illicit drug manufacturing is responsible.  Fentanyl can be developed in a warehouse whereas heroin requires many hundreds of acres to grow the poppies it is derived from.

Horizon Behavioral Health is committed to fighting the opioid epidemic in our area. Education and prevention are crucial.  The Courtland Wellness Center Crisis and Detox programs provide inpatient care for individuals suffering with dependence on opioids and heroin as well as those battling alcohol, cocaine, methamphetamine, and cannabis dependence.  We receive referrals from Lynchburg and surrounding counties from a variety of agencies, including the emergency rooms, but individuals can walk in or call for assessment directly as well.  Our physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses and therapists provide medical detox services and counseling.  Assessment of co-occurring psychiatric problems is an important part of treatment as well since we know that at least forty percent of addicts have co-occurring mental health problems such as depression. Horizon offers a continuum of care and our goal is for our clients to leave the inpatient setting with a clear treatment plan to continue their recovery drug and alcohol free and with strong professional support. 

The medical community is striving to develop more effective medication-assisted  treatments for addiction and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is working to widen the availability of treatments such as buprenorphine for opioid dependence.  Nurse practitioners and physician assistants are now able to complete training and apply for a “waiver” to be able to prescribe buprenorphine for office based addiction treatment.  This is good news for Horizon Behavioral Health clients and our community, as we look forward to offering more treatment options and being able to offer medication-assisted treatment to more adults in the next few months.