2015 overdose deaths adjusted higher

The number of deaths in the area caused by opioid overdoses has been revised upward as a result of new information gathered since Jan. 1.

The death toll for 2015 is now 30, only three fewer than the 33 recorded in 2014 for the area encompassing Frederick, Warren, Clarke, Shenandoah and Page counties.

The death toll comes from information gathered by the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug Task Force and appears on the Road to Recovery website maintained by Northern Shenandoah Valley Substance Abuse Coalition.

Lauren Cummings, executive director of the coalition, said the figures were revised after the release of autopsy results for two people who died in September and October. Both showed the victims had consumed drugs such as heroin or other opioids. A third death in which the victim overdosed on an over-the-counter anti-diarrhea medication was added to the list after the medication was determined to be an opioid, Cummings said.

Cummings said she believes the total of 30 deaths for 2015 represents the final tally and is still enough of a decrease from 2014 to show some progress in combating the effects of overdoses from heroin and other opioids.

Deaths from heroin overdoses began appearing in the area in 2012 and have risen sharply since then until 2015.

“I would say last year was the first year since 2012 that we saw a decrease in opioid deaths in our area,” Cummings said. “One death is too many. What I think this shows is that we’re making progress, but there’s still a whole lot more to be done to address this issue in our community.”

Cummings said the increasing use of Narcan, a drug used by emergency responders to counter the effects of opioids, saved the lives of many overdose victims.

“If Narcan wasn’t available, our numbers would have been a lot higher,” Cummings said.

The number of non-fatal injuries attributable to opioid overdoses also declined in 2015 to 55 from the 73 recorded in 2014, a drop that Cummings called “pretty significant.”

The number of deaths recorded so far this year is zero, an encouraging start after three people died from overdoses within the first 12 days of 2015 and three others died within the first 25 days of 2014.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com