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Giles County sees spike in overdose deaths this year

Published: Jun. 26, 2020 at 6:19 AM EDT
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GILES COUNTY, Va. (WDBJ) - In Giles County, the sheriff’s office has noticed a sudden increase in overdose deaths since the first of the year.

Since January, there are four deaths they know about.

Chief Deputy Scott Moye joined the department in 2008. He said in his nine years as an investigator, he can count on one hand how many overdose deaths they worked.

Moye is concerned with the recent rise in overdoses and says the combination of the pandemic, more disposable income from stimulus checks and simply nothing else to do could be leading to this spike.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re from a rich family or poor family, what your race or ethnicity is, we’re seeing this impact all walks of life,” Moye said.

In Giles County, Moye said they used to have more of a problem with prescription narcotics, but more recently they’ve seen people turn to meth and heroin, then combine them with fentanyl.

“It takes just a few micrograms just to kill you,” Moye said. “With fentanyl, what we believe they’re doing is they’re pushing themselves right to the edge of death and they know that they might die from it.”

The sheriff’s office said they see fentanyl coming from places like Mexico and China, traveling the interstate system. Moye said being right between Bluefield and Princeton in West Virginia, then Blacksburg and Roanoke in Virginia also contributes to what they’re seeing.

Fentanyl can put loved ones and responding officers at risk if they come in contact with it.

“One of the things you find is people chase the high,” Moye said. “They want to get the best high that they can and they get to the very edge that they can get to, and then they’ll look for the next thing.”

For people struggling with substance abuse and addiction, New River Valley Community Services offers support and treatment for you.

“Primarily the thing we try to focus on is prevention, to keep it from being a problem in the first place,” said Coordinator of Community Wellness and Outreach Mike Wade.

NRVCS works to educate the community about the problem and works to connect folks who struggle with addiction to get the appropriate help. They also offer REVIVE! Training, the opioid overdose and naloxone education program for first responders and community members to carry and administer naloxone.

“Those are things that we can all do as community members, friends, neighbors to help people with the disease of addiction and to make our communities healthier and stronger,” Wade said.

“But I don’t want people to depend on naloxone to bring them back from a near-death experience,” Moye said. “Seek help, don’t depend on naloxone to be your help.”

From the Giles County Sheriff’s Office:

  • Based on a combination of C.A.D. reports and personal knowledge of deputies, the following statistics have been combined. These statistics represent a time period beginning January 1, 2020 and ending on June 16, 2020. Note that these are only incidents that are known to the Giles County Sheriff’s Office.
    • Number of Incidents
      • Overdose deaths- 4
      • Survived overdoses- 14
      • Overdoses where survival was unknown- 3
      • Total known overdoses- 21
    • Overdoses in which Narcan was administered:
      • Successful by law enforcement- 2
      • Successful by rescue- 1
      • Successful by private citizen- 5
      • Unsuccessful by private citizen- 1
    • Other information to be considered:
      • Statistics on overdoses are hard to calculate
      • Many times they come in as a rescue call for an unknown ailment
        • Our system would only log these as an ambulance call
        • There is no way to populate these calls through C.A.D. other than searching the word “overdose” and/or searching the notes for evidence of such
        • Our finding these calls is dependent upon the language used in the notes by dispatch
      • Many times law enforcement is not summoned
    • The use of Narcan by private citizens is more widespread recently and there are accounts of subjects overdosing without any medical intervention
      • Subjects will leave the scene before police arrive
      • These unconfirmed accounts are not listed in the statistics
  • · These numbers are substantially higher than years past, however our inability to discriminate between an average rescue call and an overdose makes it hard to say how much higher.
  • For instance, in my 12 years with GCSO (9 in investigations) I can only recall working three deaths that were attributed to overdose of drugs/alcohol prior to 2020
  • Suicide attempts were not included in these statistics
  • There have been several calls of attempted, suspected attempted or threatened suicide by overdose
  • Most times these calls involve the use of prescription narcotics
  • We have received information about heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana being laced with fentanyl
  • One known drug user told one of our deputies, “I cannot get high on anything without fentanyl in it now.”
  • Theories on the rise of overdoses
    • There are groups of people whom we have interacted with who feel safer continuing to use narcotics, including fentanyl, because they have Narcan at their disposal
    • While Narcan is a great lifesaving tool for both officers and the public, it may actually encourage the use of dangerous drugs among those private citizens who keep it in their possession
    • There seemed to be a spike in deaths around the time of the coronavirus shutdown
    • Depression
    • Disposable income (stimulus check) used to buy narcotics
    • Increase in drug dealing to make up for lost wages
    • The presence of more potent drugs in our community has risen astronomically
    • Fentanyl, heroin and methamphetamine are the most prevalent in our community
    • These drugs have filled the void of prescription narcotics
    • We rarely see abuse of prescription narcotics anymore
    • Prescription narcotics accounted for the vast majority of our drug investigations up until recent years
    • This is a testament to the efforts of doctors, pharmacies and pharmaceutical companies that helped to curb that epidemic
  • Potential ways to combat the issue
    • Our drug investigator is working with the Commonwealth Attorney to uncover options as to how to address these incidents from a criminal perspective
    • Doing search warrants on residences to remove narcotics and paraphernalia
    • Placing criminal charges on those found to be in possession of illegal narcotics
    • Talking with medical professionals about whether there is any way to populate statistics about overdose incident that is HIPPA compliant
    • Number of incidents
    • Type of drugs used
    • Type of use (IV, oral, inhalation, etc.)
    • Creating a new call type in C.A.D. specific to overdoses
    • Keeping Narcan on hand for officers
    • Preaching officer safety to be certain that our staff is not exposed to dangerous drugs such as fentanyl
  • In conclusion, this rise in overdose deaths is certainly concerning to those of us in the law enforcement community. Not only are we seeing people dying way before their time, but we are also at a high risk for accidental exposure. Creating a system in which we can accurately calculate the number and type of these incidents will allow us to more effectively strategize our response. It is my belief that a multi-pronged approach stemmed in cooperation by a multi-disciplined team is the best way to see results locally.

Officials said these increases aren’t just happening in Giles County, they are seeing them nationwide.

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