It happened to Prince. It happened to Tom Petty. Accidental death due to fentanyl overdose. Two musical icons I sorely miss. But nothing compares to the heartbreak I see on people’s faces when they share their personal stories of a loved one’s accidental death due to fentanyl, heroin and prescription opioid overdoses.
We are minuscule compared to our Northern Virginia neighbors on just about everything EXCEPT overdose deaths. Our overdose mortality rates for fentanyl, heroin and prescription opioids are some of the highest in Virginia. Warren County alone has the 3rd highest mortality rate of any county or city in the Commonwealth. It’s time we make this a political priority.
It’s hard to talk about …
What’s up with this not being a top priority for our rural state leaders? On the one hand, it’s hard to talk about. The stigma of shame and guilt can be overwhelming. It seems only to be discussed with hushed tones. However, after speaking with many, many people in our community, I can tell you this issue spans income, race, gender and any other dividing line you may want to overlay. Everybody is impacted.
Stop the Tail Wagging the Dog
Now, on the other hand, there is a political reason why it’s not a higher priority. Our rural political leaders, specifically Delegate Webert, have a “tail wagging the dog” political mentality which distracts from confronting these deep and difficult issues. The time Del. Webert did mention this issue on the floor of the House, it was only to use it as a political football to vote against Medicaid expansion.
Our local and county officials are trying to deal with this huge problem. Sheriff Mosier, Fauquier County Sheriff, often says we can’t arrest our way out of this. An interesting note, Fauquier County Sheriff deputies no longer wear ties to minimize the risk of their exposure to fentanyl. They also always carry two packs of Narcan, one for the person overdosing and one for themselves. While Narcan is saving lives, overdoses remain the same. In other words, Narcan is a stop gap.
We have to solve this problem. There is no 6-degrees of separation here. We are all impacted by this scourge. A Culpeper business woman is now raising her granddaughter, a mom who lost a son at a motel in Warrenton is now teaching classes on how to use Narcan (Virginia state sponsored training), you can watch a documentary, Dr. Feelgood: Dealer or Healer, which tells how a doctor and a pharmacy in The Plains catapulted opioids into the black market and saturated rural Virginia. As of 2016, Virginia has been under a Public Health Emergency for our opioid epidemic.
Our politicians have to stop the “tail wagging the dog” policies, stop the partisan rhetoric and start working for our rural communities. We have to solve the problems we have, not ones made up by lobbyists who don’t live in rural Virginia.