Virginia’s Harm Reduction Coalition reports hundreds of overdose reversals

Published: Aug. 31, 2022 at 6:41 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Wednesday was International Overdose Awareness Day. While we’re remembering those lost to overdoses, we’re also looking at the responses aimed at keeping people alive.

Recently, Book No Further hosted a launch event in downtown Roanoke for Beth Macy’s latest book on the opioid crisis, “Raising Lazarus.”

It remains a poignant topic because the latest data from the Virginia Department of Health show Roanoke City has one of the highest rates of fatal drug overdoses in the state.

At the event, VDH and the Harm Reduction Coalition were in the back of the room handing out naloxone and giving quick tutorials on how to administer it. Naloxone is an overdose reversal drug.

“You can walk up on somebody on a sidewalk anywhere, in your front lawn, we’re seeing people overdosing so regularly in our communities that our goal is to have NARCAN in every car, every first aid kit and every home,” said Coalition Executive Director Danny Clawson. “Because you’re never gonna know when you’re gonna come across somebody that needs your help.”

The Coalition has a multi-pronged approach to helping people with Substance Use Disorder, which includes the clean needle exchange program.

The executive director says in the first six months of the year, they served more than 1,000 participants who reported to them 981 overdose reversals. Of those served, about 75 percent were from Roanoke City.

“I have found that especially in Appalachia people are very, very supportive of this work because we’ve been on the front lines since day one,” said Clawson. “The rest of America is waking up to the opioid crisis. We’ve been living it for 30 years. And I think people are ready for a change; they’re ready to do what works and everybody wants to do their work.”

According to the Virginia Department of Health, fentanyl contributed to or caused death in 75% of all fatal overdoses in the state in 2021. Fatal, non-opioid illicit drug overdoses are also on the rise. From 2020 to 2021, VDH reported a 24% increase in fatal cocaine overdoses and a 42% rise in fatal methamphetamines overdoses. Methamphetamines appear to be the predominant cause of fatal overdoses in southwest Virginia in particular.

Clawson says it’s important for them to also help clients with things like homelessness and food insecurity.

In those same six months, the Coalition reported providing some kind of service to 66 clients, and vaccinated several hundred people for protection against COVID and Hepatitis A and B.

“I just flew a participant across the country last month to get them into a treatment center because it was the only one that was open,” Clawson explained. “... We’ve found that when you address all the issues that the person is facing, not just the drug use, that the outcomes are so much better and people can achieve recovery, they can achieve sobriety and stability if we meet them where they’re at and you know treat the whole person.”

Clawson said they know one person suffering with Substance Use Disorder can take a toll on an entire family.

“And we wanna be there and fill that gap,” they explained. “When you can’t anymore, send them to us and we will do everything in our power to keep them safe, get them connected to care and help you get your family member back.”

You can visit the Coalition’s website to learn more.