What to Know
- The number of Virginia residents who died of opioid overdoses climbed again last year.
- Fairfax County had the most opioid overdose deaths in the state, at 104 deaths. Richmond came in second, at 100 deaths.
- On the plus side, the total increase in all fatal drug overdoses in the state was smaller in 2017 than it was in previous years.
More Virginia residents died of opioid overdoses in 2017 than in any year in at least the past decade.
Opioid use claimed the lives of 1,227 Virginians in 2017, up from 1,138 deaths the previous year, state health data released Wednesday shows.
The preliminary data from the state medical examiner accounts for overdose deaths related to prescription opioids, heroin and fentanyl.
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More people died of opioid overdoses in Fairfax County last year than in any other county in the state, the data shows. The number of deaths climbed 30 percent, from 80 deaths in 2016 to 104 deaths the following year.
The city of Richmond had the next-highest number of opioid overdose deaths, at 100 last year.
A greater portion of residents of Richmond died of overdoses than did residents of Fairfax County, however. Richmond had a rate of 20.1 per 100,000 residents die, versus 4.5 per 100,000 residents in Fairfax County. Richmond’s population is about 223,000. Fairfax County's is almost 1.5 million, Census Bureau estimates from 2016 show.
Fentanyl -- a synthetic opioid used to treat pain -- is the cause of more than half of all fatal overdoses in the state in 2017, state researchers found.
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The deadly substance is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Preservation.
The number of fatal fentanyl overdoses increased in Virginia by 23.4 percent from 2016 to 2017.
2017 marks the fifth year fatal drug overdoses rose past motor vehicle accidents and gun-related incidents as the leading cause of unnatural death in the state.
Victims in urban areas tend to overdose and die from illegal opioid use, while those in rural areas are more likely to die from prescription drug use.
The 7.5 percent increase in all fatal drug overdoses was much smaller than the jump in deaths the previous year, the report said. Fatal drug overdoses spiked at an alarming rate of 38 percent between 2015 and 2016, the highest increase on record.
The researchers warned the data is subject to change; the medical examiner has 40 open cases. Some of these may result in increases to the death toll.
The release of the data came a day before Virginia’s governor was set to visit George Mason University for a symposium on how to better combat the opioid epidemic in Northern Virginia.