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Roanoke City, County see rise in overdoses compared with last year

Published: Apr. 29, 2020 at 6:19 PM EDT
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Two local police chiefs are noticing a troubling trend - an increase in drug overdoses.

They think the

could be partly to blame. But it's not just the rate of the overdoses that's troubling them.

Chief Howard Hall and Chief Samuel Roman may have to keep their distance now, but their agencies are side-by-side, working on a troubling trend.

"This is definitely something that's on our radar," said Roanoke City Chief Roman.

The chiefs said Wednesday overdoses in Roanoke City and Roanoke County are on the rise compared to last year.

"January 2019, we had two overdoses. January of this year we had eight, one of which was fatal," Roanoke County Chief Hall said.

But even during the pandemic, he said those year-to-year increases continue.

In March there were 12 overdoses in the county, one fatal. This month there have been 11, with three fatalities.

Chief Roman notes a similar situation in the city.

"Last year we had a total of, during the year 2019, of 26 overdoses, fatal overdoses," Roman said. "And apparently we are 13 within the city now."

Chief Hall says not only that, but they're seeing more fentanyl in the mixes, as they closely examine what's hauled off the streets.

"I think to some people, there's a perception that because of the pandemic, many government services have been reduced, so policing might be one of them," he said. "I think we're here to tell you that it's not."

But the approach for them is twofold.

"We are certainly trying to do everything we can do make sure that we mitigate that and not just from an enforcement perspective," Roman said. "But also on the prevention side as well."

That's why they're encouraging people to go to

.

"I definitely think it's natural too when you have less social interaction, to get more depressed, so you know on top of substance use you've got folks that are dealing with those kinds of things as well," said Tamara Starnes, the chief clinical officer with Blue Ridge Behavioral Healthcare.

She said they expect more people to turn to drugs and alcohol during this pandemic.

But she and the chiefs want people to know help is available, and now, just a phone call away.

"We're open, here for services, if you are struggling with those things," she said.

Plus, she said she's noticed that while fewer new people have come in for services, more people are sticking with their programs. She suggests it's likely because of the telehealth services, spurred out of necessity during the pandemic.

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