Overdoses increasing in Isle of Wight County

Published 7:04 pm Tuesday, May 28, 2019

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

So far this year (through May 23), Isle of Wight first responders have attended to 19 overdose calls.

This comes after 40 calls in 2018 and 33 in 2017, according to reports compiled by the Isle of Wight Department of Emergency Management.

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The numbers seem to indicate that Isle of Wight is not immune from the opioid crisis that has been ongoing for years in the United States. 

Carrollton Volunteer Fire Department Chief Tim Nunez said the overdose calls are either opioids and heroin or accidental overdoses by elderly individuals on medications, such as beta-blockers, combined with other prescriptions. 

In those cases, older people sometimes take double doses of medication, and being older, their bodies don’t excrete it as quickly as when they were younger, said Carrollton VFD Deputy Chief Brian Hubbard. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

At the same time, Lt. Tommy Potter with the Isle of Wight Sheriff’s Office acknowledges that the county has an issue with heroin. 

First responders are now seeing overdoses on a regular basis, said Potter, noting that there were two over the weekend of May 17-18.

One of those individuals was revived with the use of Narcan, while the other ended up in critical condition at the hospital, said Potter. 

A look at call sheets provided to the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors shows that in 2018, overdose calls were a regular occurrence each month of the year. And while most of the calls were in the more populous parts of the county, no response zone was immune. 

The Virginia Department of Health keeps track of the opioid addiction and overdose deaths by county. 

In 2016, 11 Isle of Wight County residents died from a fentanyl, heroin or prescription opioid overdose, according to the VDH. 

The next year there were 10 deaths. 

The mortality rate per 100,000 attributed to Fentanyl and/or heroin and prescription opioids in Isle of Wight had increased from zero in 2011 to a high so far of 20.5 in 2016, according to the VDH data. 

That’s five points higher than the 2016 state rate of 15 for those drugs, according to VDH. 

Isle of Wight’s mortality rate dropped by half in 2017 to 10, and was lower than the state rate for overdose deaths due to those drugs, at 16.9 that year, according to the VDH. 

Statewide, there were 1,284 deaths from fentanyl, heroin and prescription opioids in Virginia in 2016 and 1,445 in 2017, according to the VDH. 

So far, figures are not available for 2018. 

However, Virginia overall did not show a statistically significant increase in overdose death rates from 2016-17, although the states surrounding it did, according the Centers for Disease Control. 

Fentanyl, a strong sedative, is often mixed with heroin and that can be deadly, said Potter.

“Sometimes it takes you farther than you ever intended to go,” he said, adding that the call usually comes in that someone is unresponsive. 

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 80-100 times stronger than morphine, according to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration. 

Potter said Narcan, (naloxone) used to reverse the effects of opioids, has been around for years, but until recently, was only available through a doctor’s order. Today, Narcan can be obtained by prescription, and doctors often include it with an order for pain killers, said Potter.

Isle of Wight County first responders carry Narcan, as do the Sheriff’s deputies and the Smithfield Police. 

All deputies have been trained to use Narcan and carry at least two doses with them at all times, said Potter. 

“It’ll bring you back from the brink of death,” he said. 

Opioids affect receptors in the brain that, if too much is taken, tell the lungs to stop working and breathing ceases, said Potter. 

Narcan reverses that effect, he said, adding that the trick is to get there before the person stops breathing and turns blue. 

Nunez said that if responders know it’s an opioid-based overdose they administer Narcan, otherwise they use other means to attempt to revive the patient and provide support until they arrive at the hospital.

“Our job is to get them breathing adequately again,” said Nunez. 


Overdose calls in Isle of Wight 

2009      43

2010      28

2011      30

2012      41

2013      45

2014      45

2015      35

2016      28

2017      33

2018      40

Information courtesy of Isle of Wight County Emergency Services

Signs of an overdose


Recognizing an opioid overdose can be difficult. If you aren’t sure, it is best to treat the situation like an overdose—you could save a life. It is important that you don’t leave the person alone and make sure you call 911 or seek medical care for the individual. Signs may include any of the following:

Small, constricted “pinpoint pupils”

Falling asleep or loss of consciousness

Slow, shallow breathing

Choking or gurgling sounds

Limp body

Pale, blue, or cold skin

Information courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control.

Reporting an overdose

Gov. Ralph Northam signed a law, to take effect July 1, which will eliminate the requirement that those reporting an overdose substantially cooperate with law enforcement in any criminal investigation with regards to the overdose situation.  

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, based on the death of Dillon McGhee, who died of an overdose because those who were with her were afraid of being arrested if they called 911, according to The Richmond Times Dispatch. The bill is known as “Dillon’s Law.”  {/mprestriction}