Richmond’s silent killer: fatal drug overdoses increase, fentanyl to blame

Local News

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The overwhelming majority of fatal drug overdoses in the Richmond metro area can be narrowed down to one specific substance. Once primarily seen in pain killers, law enforcement are struggling to keep up with the overpowering grasp of fentanyl.

Newly published data from the Virginia Department of Health shows the deadly toll in Central Virginia: 128 people died in Richmond from an overdose in the first half of 2021; 89% from fentanyl.

Trailing numerically in the same time period, Henrico and Chesterfield both saw 69 fatal overdoses–fentanyl accounted for 84% and 74% of all overdoses, respectively.

Data from the Virginia Department of Health

Fentanyl users like Stephanie Crowder have continued to escape potential death. 8News interviewed Crowder and other inmates at the Chesterfield County Jail who have previously faced substance abuse with fentanyl.

”I’m on day 11 from detoxing from fentanyl and methamphetamines,” Crowder said, noting she felt “not good, not good,” and weak.

“My body hurts, it’s hard to think, it’s hard to hope,” she said.

But it’s hope that recovering addicts like Jamie Baker in Richmond holds dear. He was first dependent on opioid painkillers and fentanyl patches after being diagnosed with leukemia several years ago. 

However, after making strides away from addiction, he relapsed last month following a six month stay in jail for drug possession.

“They had ‘Narcan’d’ me six times. If it wasn’t for that Narcan, I would not be alive today,” Baker said.

Chesterfield County Sheriff Karl Leonard said pandemic restrictions made problems worse for drug users because people needing in-person treatment did not have access to typical resources.

Chesterfield inmate Amber Nunnally said “nothing was right there, right then,” when she needed it while incarcerated at Riverside Regional Jail for a separate offense.

Sara Lowery, a third inmate inside the Chesterfield jail who spoke with 8News on the subject, said she decided not to post bail because recovering without supervision she gets while in jail could mean trouble.

“If I don’t stay in a controlled environment, before long enough, I am going to get out and I’m going to die,” Lowery said.

Inmates 8News spoke to also said it is much cheaper to buy fentanyl over other drugs like cocaine.

Sheriff Leonard said investigators know that fentanyl is being trafficked into the states from out of the country, but the quantity in circulation is unknown.

Insurmountable pain is felt from these overdoses, but there is help. Addiction treatment specialists, counselors and more are available to assist those seeking recovery. Free test strips can detect if fentanyl is in a drug, as well as free NARCAN—resources that could be a lifesaver, and are available at most local health departments.

U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: Visit https://findtreatment.samhsa.gov or call 1-800-662-HELP. More resources for addiction recovery can be found here

Baker founded a Facebook group to encourage addicts in their recovery; ‘Recovery Photos’ can be found here.

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