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13 people in Culpeper die from fentanyl in first half of 2021
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13 people in Culpeper die from fentanyl in first half of 2021

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Here’s a real-life horror story impacting many families nationwide. The powerful and deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl is killing Culpeper residents at a near-double rate than last year.

In the first six months of 2021, there were 13 fatal overdoes in the county of 50,000 from fentanyl, one from heroin and one from other opioids. Seven died in Culpeper in 2020 from fentanyl, which is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine with small amounts able to cause fatal results.

There were 15 total fatal drug overdoses from January to June of 2021 in Culpeper, compared to 15 in all of 2020, according to new figures from the Virginia Dept. of Health Chief Medical Examiner’s Office.

Culpeper Police Chief Chris Jenkins, asked for solutions and what he’s seeing on the issue, said that’s best left for a longer conversation.

“The last national numbers I saw was showing nearly 30 percent increase in OD deaths, and I don’t see the upward trend going down anytime soon,” he said in an email Friday. “Please keep the topic on the front page, it’s definitely taking a toll on our community and our resources.”

The Culpeper PD has employed recent help from community mental health officers who co-respond to situations where their services are needed, including drug use. Police regularly work with a coalition of local nonprofits, groups and community services to combat addiction, provide support, resources and treatment.

Several medical clinics in town offer medicated assisted treatment for those physically dependent on opioids.

Rappahannock-Rapidan Community Services Executive Director Jim LaGraffe said the Culpeper-based agency, providing behavioral health and addiction services in five counties, is actively working to make available fentanyl test strips available locally.

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“They help people know what they are using and have been shown to help decrease overdoses,” he said.

Fentanyl test strips can be used to determine if drugs have been mixed or cut with fentanyl, providing people who use drugs and communities with important information about fentanyl in the illicit drug supply so they can take steps to reduce their risk of overdose, according to the CDC. Localities may use federal pandemic-era funds to purchase these strips, according to the CDC.

Statewide, drug overdoses were the leading cause of unnatural death since 2013 with more people dying each year.

Fentanyl and opioids have been the driving force behind the increase, according to the Medical Examiner’s Office. The drug accounted for 72 percent of the 2,309 OD deaths last year in the commonwealth.

More than 2,600 Virginians are already reported to have died from substance abuse disorder in the first two quarters of 2021.

The first quarter of this year had the largest number of fatal overdoses ever, according to VDH data.

Ever since the COVID pandemic, deaths have been at record-breaking levels, the medical examiner said.

The five-county Rappahannock-Rapidan Culpeper area health district shows up in the mid to high range statewide for OD deaths based on population.

For the first six months of 2021, VDH reported nine overdose deaths in Fauquier, five in Orange and three in Rappahannock. There were none in Madison, according to the data.

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