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Teen overdoses draw increased focus to opioid epidemic in Fairfax County

Fairfax County Public Schools

Recent drug overdoses by teenagers in the Richmond Highway corridor and emergency care statistics have led Fairfax County officials to intensify their efforts to address the opioid epidemic.

Hospitals and urgent care centers in the county have seen nonfatal overdoses rise in the last three years, from 232 to 324 and 354 as of last year. Most of the opiate cases involve fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that’s 80-100 times more powerful than morphine, while heroin cases are declining, the county health department told FFXnow.

County Executive Bryan Hill and Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand reported in a March 15 letter that the county has seen “a concerning number” of nonfatal overdoses involving teens aged 15 to 17 in the Richmond Highway corridor.

They said the incidents have primarily involved illicit pills, likely fentanyl, but the substances weren’t verified by lab tests at the time of their writing.

“Individuals of all ages are impacted by the opioid epidemic in the Fairfax Health District, with the 18-34 age range having the highest rates of fatal and nonfatal overdoses in the Fairfax Health District in recent years,” the letter said.

In Fairfax County, opioid overdoses are the top non-natural cause of death. They were involved in the deaths of 83 people in 2019, 94 people in 2020, and 85 individuals for a nine-month period in 2021.

Last spring, the U.S. saw more than 100,000 people die from drug overdoses during a 12-month period — the highest rate ever recorded, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Opioids were involved in most of those deaths.

Ellen Volo, Fairfax County’s opioid task force coordinator, says there are over 30 activities underway or in development across five priority areas:

  1. Education, prevention, and collaboration
  2. Early intervention and treatment
  3. Enforcement and criminal justice
  4. Data and monitoring
  5. Harm reduction

Fairfax County Health Department spokesperson Lucy Caldwell said the department is collaborating with the Fairfax County Opioid and Substance Use Task Force.

Resources for prevention, treatment, and enforcement can also be found through the school system, the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board, the police department, and community organizations like the nonprofit Chris Atwood Foundation.

“It is not just one effort — it is the coordinated efforts — that will make a difference,” she said by email.

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