Overdose deaths down in region

Opioid overdose deaths from  are much lower this year than they were at the same time last year.

Lauren Cummings, the executive director of the Northern Shenandoah Valley Substance Abuse Coalition, said Friday that the lower numbers could be reflective of a shift in drug use from opioids to stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine.

“Obviously any decrease that we see is good news for our area,” Cummings said. “We hope that we continue on this downward trend throughout 2018.”

Cummings added that the region — encompassing Winchester and Frederick, Clarke, Shenandoah, Page and Warren counties — has seen a small dip in the number of nonfatal drug overdoses, from 70 at this time last year to 65 this year.

But the change could also be the result of luck.

Cummings said that most overdose deaths have been the result of fentanyl, a particularly potent opioid that drug dealers sometimes mix with other drugs.

“Very often, we will see a cluster of overdoses, and specifically deaths, and so the numbers can change quickly,” Cummings said. “And obviously, that’s when we typically see the labs coming back positive for fentanyl.”

Meanwhile, a recent report from the Virginia Department of Health has shown overdose deaths continuing to climb across the Commonwealth of Virginia with 1,534 overdoses in 2017 compared to 1,428 in 2016.

Those numbers are likely lower than the actual death totals, both because many overdoses are never reported and because the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has not determined the official cause of death for 40 cases in 2017.

The Virginia Department of Health report also shows an increase in methamphetamine and cocaine overdose deaths, which could partly be the result of mixtures between those stimulants and fentanyl. But in the northern Shenandoah Valley, Cummings said, officials have not seen cases of those fentanyl-laced stimulants in methamphetamine and cocaine.

“I know that some areas across the country are experiencing that and that doesn’t mean that it won’t get here, but right now we are not experiencing that,” Cummings said.