Investigation: Spike in overdoses mirrors isolation, hopelessness of COVID-19 pandemic


PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The rate of drug overdose is up all across our region ever since the pandemic began.

Some of the reasons people are being driven to despair: social distancing, economic troubles and no real end in sight. It turns out you can die from COVID-19 without ever getting the disease.

“When you have your kids at home, you have the parents and everybody’s on each other’s nerves and the parents are going to their pills or whatever,” said Diana Mitchell, who lost her daughter Brooke to overdose four years ago.

It’s the pressure from the pandemic.

Norfolk Police Lieutenant Albert Karpovich runs the department’s vice and narcotics division. “People are stressed, and sometimes people relieve that stress through illicit drug use and unfortunately it cost a lot of people their lives (in 2020),” he said.

People who may already be struggling with addiction have lost jobs, lost touch, lost hope.

“This pandemic probably does affect them a lot and we probably have a great uptick in overdoses because of the pandemic,” Karpovich said.

Police data show that every one of the seven cities in Hampton Roads saw increases in total overdoses, both fatal and non-fatal, from 2019 to 2020.

Resources: Virginia Attorney General’s Office help for heroin/opioid epidemic

Among the biggest increases were Virginia Beach with a 76% rise, and Chesapeake at 80% – but the most alarming jumps were in Suffolk (91%) and Norfolk (99%). During the pandemic, those two cities saw their rate of overdose essentially double.

“Some people are losing entire families, three and four children. It’s insane and it’s COVID-19, COVID-19,” Mitchell said.

She’s now an advocate for parents, and a member of two grieving support groups.

Link for help: Grieving Anonymous

Link for help: Virginia Bereavement Support Groups

“We have a mom that just lost a 13-year-old!” Mitchell said with equal parts shock and disgust.

People who counsel those in crisis say the surge in overdoses is affecting one age group in particular.

“We’re losing a lot of young people,” said Charles Deloatch, a peer recovery specialist who counsels people in crisis for the Virginia Beach Department of Human Services on the city’s warm line.

Peer counseling warm lines:

  • Norfolk: 757-664-6683 757-381-5260
  • Portsmouth: 757-381-5289 757-381-5263
  • Virginia Beach: 757-402-6190
  • Richmond: 833-4PEERVA

Deloatch has been clean for nearly 30 years after using crack cocaine and crystal meth.
He says in the days of Zoom it’s a challenge to deliver the resources that are available to people who are already short on technology.

“If you have clientele who don’t have a phone, who don’t have internet access, who’s not adept to using those kinds of devices, they’re at a loss.”

Meanwhile, the opioid overdose reversal drug Narcan is saving lives.

“At least you have that option to have it with you. I still carry it with me because I’ve had parents that I’ve had contact that have reached out to me – what do I do, how do I deal with it?” Mitchell said.

Karpovich looks at his data on Narcan and sees patterns.

“Looking at the repeat names of victims that Narcan has saved, people have gone back and overdosed yet again.”

“If you have an addict at home, (Narcan) needs to be in your house, it needs to be in your car,” Mitchell said. “Because you never know. Had they had Narcan when my daughter overdosed, she would have been here today.”

Virginia’s Good Samaritan law removes the risk for someone reporting an overdose.

“If you call and you’re overdosing or your friend calls for you, and you’re overdosing we don’t charge them with possession of that narcotic even if they have it on them or with them, it’s part of the law,” Karpovich said.

Deloatch says people who are already at risk for addiction don’t need much to push them over the edge.

“You’re talking about people who already have fractured personalities, and (the pandemic) is adding more fear for someone who can’t really handle anything.”

For more information on addiction recovery, click here. Further recovery resources are available at community services boards.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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