As drug overdose deaths increase in Virginia and across the country, U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger, D-Henrico, introduced a bipartisan bill that would create permanent federal funding for addiction recovery programs.
The legislation would require states to spend at least 10% of the money they receive from the federal block grant on drug prevention and treatment. on record successful recovery programs and specialized peer support programs to “help Virginians stay sober”.
“By establishing a 10 percent reserve, this bill would provide much needed assistance to community centers, homes, schools and recovery-oriented ministries that are already doing the hard work to help those struggling with drug addiction and help them on their road to recovery, ”said Spaberger. “We can provide hope, end the stigma, and make peer-to-peer recovery services accessible, but we must demonstrate the federal will necessary to support long-term recovery programs.”
In the most recent fiscal year, Congress provided $ 1.8 billion for the program, Spanberger’s office said. Virginia’s award was $ 41 million. For the future, the House of Representatives proposed to increase the total credit to 2.8 billion dollars. The block grant represents about 15 percent of the state’s total drug addiction agency funding.
The legislation comes as VDH data shows a 41.9% increase in overdose deaths in Virginia, from 1,627 in 2019 to 2,308 in 2020. However, health professionals at Commonwealth University of Virginia say Heads of state must look beyond legislation to find a concrete, long-term solution to the opioid epidemic.
“An overdose death is a big problem, but all the other morbidities and deaths that can come from substance use – in addition to this death by overdose – is not captured by this data, ”said Dr. Caitlin Martin, Director of OB-GYN Addiction Services at the OB MOTIVATE Clinic, a program that treats women with addiction issues. Martin is also an Assistant Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the VCU School of Medicine.. “So for every identified overdose death you think of all the other people and families affected by drug addiction who luckily are not represented in that overdose death,” she said.
While some addiction experts suspect the spike in overdose deaths may be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic and the isolation that has accompanied it, Martin and Dr Brandon Wills, another VCU physician, said that ‘there are several competing factors that are responsible for the push.
“I’m not sure if anyone knows the exact answers, but it’s a combination of issues related to the pandemic linked to the stressors that have accompanied it, like mental health, financial pressures, isolation, access to services when everything has been closed, said Wills, a director of the Virtual Bridge Clinic in the emergency department, associate professor in the VCU department of emergency medicine, and deputy medical director of the Virginia Poison Center.
Martin stressed the importance of tackling the recent spike and global epidemic of drug addiction in a holistic manner, noting that community-driven de-stigmatization of drug addiction would have a tangible and positive long-term impact on the Commonwealth and the country. According to Martin, this can only be achieved by treating drug addiction as a legitimate medical disorder rather than a criminal act or simply self-inflicted harm.
“We need to make sure we understand that law and order is occurring in the context of a bigger problem of drug addiction, and we are not addressing it appropriately in this country on many levels,” he said. said Martin. “It goes from the recognition that drug addiction is a chronic medical disorder. It has a neurobiological basis that we’ve known about for decades, and yet we keep saying it’s a moral failure, that people choose addiction.
Wills cited the increased role fentanyl – a cheaper and extremely potent opioid that is often mixed with heroin – plays in overdose deaths. “I don’t know how much of this is discussed, but the increase in fentanyl in the heroin supply… that’s a big part of the increase in overdoses that we’re seeing. These are largely unintentional overdoses, they are not patients who want to end up in the emergency room. And the vast majority of them don’t want to die when they use it, but there is super potent fentanyl that is so prevalent in the heroin supply that it is the more prevalent ingredient rather than heroin. traditional.
While both doctors agreed that cultural acceptance and sensitivity to drug addiction would be beneficial, each stressed that this goes hand in hand with legislative solutions. Increased access to healthcare, racial equity, and education would all indirectly lead to positive results in eliminating the peak overdose in Virginia.
“Systemic issues, lack of access, these things were happening before, they’re not new,” Martin said. “COVID was definitely new, I’ll grant you that, but other than that none of these things are different. Stigma of discrimination against drug addicts? It was there before. The opioid crisis? It was there before. People want to identify something, but it’s not as simple as “it caused it”, it’s a contextual problem. That is why people must realize that there is no solution for this, it will take efforts at the local level as well as efforts at the top level. We all have to play a role. ”