VA Group Works to Address Opioid Crisis
Friday, May 26, 2023
As the opioid epidemic continues to take its toll, a Virginia group is working to keep people safe.
The Virginia Harm Reduction Coalition in Roanoke has been working to provide residents in Virginia with training on how to use Narcan, a drug which slows and can reverse opioid overdose.
Data from the Commonwealth Fund show opioid deaths declined between 2021 and 2022, but are still above pre-pandemic levels.
Danny Clawson, executive director of the group, said new drugs on the street like xylazine can be difficult to tackle.
"The issue with xylazine is that it does not respond to the overdose reversal drug Narcan because it's not an opioid," Clawson explained. "Fentanyl and carfentanil are and all these other things that people talk about, those are opioids and Narcan works on the opioid receptor."
While the coalition is still developing a protocol for people overdosing on xylazine, they're advising volunteers to ensure the person is able to get oxygen. In April, the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy declared fentanyl mixed with xylazine an emerging threat in the U.S.
Outside the drug landscape, Clawson noted there are other challenges for the people her group serves. Two of the biggest issues are a lack of housing and inadequate access to mental health care services.
"The vast majority of our participants that are using substances, illegal substances, are self-medicating," Clawson pointed out. "They have complex mental health needs, and it's just so hard to access stable, affordable mental health care that we aren't able to connect them to the services they need."
She added there is not enough support for them to be able to get on the right medication, which needs to be supervised by a clinician.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin's mental health plan aims to develop mobile treatment and crisis response services. Additional funding will be invested to reduce barriers to recovery and reentry for people dealing with fentanyl overdoses.
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