RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Nearly 80 percent of the almost 1,000 fatal drug overdoses in Virginia in 2014 involved opioids, according to a new policy brief by researchers at the VCU School of Medicine.

Drug overdoses claim the lives of nearly three times as many Virginians annually as do homicides. Estimates indicate that untreated substance abuse costs Virginia state and local governments more than $600 million annually in public safety and health care services alone, according to the policy brief.

“Virginia’s opioid epidemic and untreated substance abuse are killing hundreds of Virginians and costing taxpayers more than half a billion dollars each year,” said brief lead author Andrew Barnes, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Health Behavior and Policy. The department conducts independent, nonpartisan analyses of major national and state health policy issues.

According to the Virginia Department of Health, deaths from prescription painkillers and heroin overdoses increased by 38 percent in the Commonwealth between 2012 and 2014. That statistic mirrors national trends.

Common prescription opioid painkillers include hydrocodone, which is generic for Vicodin, and oxycodone, generic for OxyContin.

According to the policy brief, opioid abuse is increasing in the state because of a plentiful prescription opioid drug supply, lack of awareness of the issue among the public and health care providers and limited treatment availability.

Especially hard-hit areas include the southwest, the southside, Hampton Roads, the metro Richmond area, the Shenandoah Valley and the north.

“Virginia’s Medicaid program spent $26 million on opioid use and misuse in 2013, with $10 million of this spending occurring in southwest Virginia,” a press release from VCU Public Affairs reads. “At least 40,000 adults in Virginia’s Medicaid program have a substance abuse disorder, and more than 50 percent of Medicaid enrollees with a serious mental illness also have a substance use disorder.”Click here for more information.