The pandemic could be driving an increase in opioid overdoses, according to recently published data and insights from people who work in a local treatment center.
Virginia Commonwealth University has released a new study that shows a surge in patients at the VCU Medical Center in Richmond who were admitted due to opioid overdoses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Researchers reported a 123% increase in non-fatal opioid overdoses in the emergency room between March and June 2019 to the same period this year. The research has been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Taylor Ochalek, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research fellow at the VCU C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research, was the lead author of the study. She said researchers have been collecting data on opioid overdoses since last year, but they recently decided to examine overdose trends to see if the pandemic was impacting overdoses.
“Social isolation, increased psychiatric symptoms, decreased access to nonmedical care and the stress that might come from unemployment could increase the risk of relapse to opioid use and then potential overdose,” Ochalek said.
The study’s authors found that Black patients were among the largest demographic associated with overdoses during the pandemic in the hospital they tracked. In March and June 2019, 63% of opioid overdose patients were Black. In March and June 2020 the number increased to 80%. The authors noted that the findings were a small sample of patients and may not be generalizable to other locations.
The McShin Foundation, a Henrico County-based drug recovery organization, has seen an increase of people coming in for treatment during the pandemic. The organization provides 11 recovery houses and 122 beds for participants.
“With a pandemic and an epidemic going on at once, It was important for us to have a safe place for those that needed help,” said Honesty Liller, the organization’s CEO.
The McShin Foundation started a podcast called Get in The Herd as a creative way to reach out once 12-step meetings were canceled because of the pandemic. The podcast offers discussion on addiction, recovery, stigma, and advocacy.
The McShin Foundation also felt it was important to develop a recovery plan for participants who received stimulus checks and unemployment benefits, Liller said. The goal is to provide individuals in recovery with resources to manage finances during the pandemic. Some individuals made more money while on unemployment benefits than when they were working, according to a May report by NPR.
“If you’re someone using and you don’t have any money every day, and you struggle to get $20 and then you’re getting $800 a week? I mean, yeah, it’s rough around here,” Liller said.
The Virginia Department of Health publishes quarterly reports on drug-related deaths. According to the report, fentanyl caused or contributed to death in almost 60% of fatal overdoses in 2019. That same year, almost 80% of all fatal overdoses of any substance were due to one or more opioids.
Overall, the number of fatal drug overdoses has increased annually since 2013, VDH reports. Opioids have been the leading force behind the increases in fatal overdoses since that year.
The most recent report from the health department shows 355 fatal opioid overdoses in the first three months of the year. That includes fentanyl, heroin, and prescription opioids, and is an 8.6% increase from the same reporting period last year.
VDH didn’t publish data for the second quarter of the year due to the pandemic. The organization plans to publish overdose data ranging from July to September on Oct.15, according to the health department.
By Aliviah Jones
Capital News Service
Texas man sentenced on cyberstalking, making interstate threats
Editor’s note: this case relates to the spring of 2018 death of Apple Mountain 16-year-old Sarah Rose Genari, which was ruled a suicide. As previously reported, O’Dell had bragged online of being responsible for the girl’s death and then began threatening her family members under assumed social media aliases. Related Article
HARRISONBURG, VIRGINIA – Adrian Raul O’Dell, an Odessa, Texas man, who had an online relationship with a juvenile female in the Western District of Virginia and later cyberstalked and made online threats to the girl’s family following her suicide, was sentenced today to 41 months in federal prison. Acting United States Attorney Daniel P. Bubar and David W. Archey, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Richmond Division made the announcement today.
O’Dell, 20, was charged in October of 2019 and arrested the following month at his home in Texas. He pleaded guilty earlier this year to two counts of cyberstalking and one count of making interstate threats.
“In today’s increasingly virtual world, where we live, work and learn online, this sentence demonstrates that if anyone uses these platforms to cyberstalk, harass and threaten others, we will hold them accountable,” Acting United States Attorney Bubar said today. “The FBI and Warren County Sheriff’s Office did an outstanding job in finding Mr. O’Dell and bringing him to justice in Virginia for his abhorrent actions. My office sends its deepest condolences to the family in this case, who lost a loved one, and hope they find some solace knowing justice was served.”
“The FBI is fully committed to investigating all forms of child exploitation, cyberstalking and online threats. We will pursue those responsible and bring them to justice,” said Special Agent in Charge David W. Archey. “Our hearts and thoughts are with the family through these difficult times.”
According to court documents, between September 2017 and around March 2018, O’Dell had an online relationship with a 16-year-old girl who lived in Linden, Virginia. In May 2018, following an investigation by the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, it was determined that the girl died by suicide in a wooded area near her home.
From June 2018 through June 2019, O’Dell, using a variety of false email and online personas, took credit for her suicide. The defendant then sent threatening and intimidating messages to her family members and friends that placed them in reasonable fear of death and serious bodily harm. In addition, these messages attempted to cause friends and family members substantial emotional distress. The defendant sent certain of these messages in violation of a protective order.
The investigation of the case was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Warren County Sherriff’s Office. Assistant United States Attorney Kate Rumsey is prosecuting the case for the United States.
Two sentenced for roles in Maryland-to-Virginia heroin pipeline that resulted in fatal overdose
Two individuals connected with a heroin trafficking conspiracy that brought heroin from Maryland into Shenandoah County, Virginia, and caused one fatal and one non-fatal overdose were sentenced last week in U.S. District Court in Harrisonburg. Acting United States Attorney Daniel P. Bubar and Jesse Fong, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Washington Field Office made the announcement today.
James Harold Lichliter, 52, of Mauretown, Va., was sentenced to 144 months in federal prison. In a separate hearing, Jonathan Dale Neice, 42, of Woodstock, Va., was sentenced to 132 months incarceration.
Both Lichliter and Neice previously pleaded guilty to one count of distribution and possession with the intent to distribute resulting in the death of J.H. and the serious bodily injury of J.W. Co-defendants Craig Kidwell, Norma Kidwell, and Stacy Allen Marston are awaiting sentencing.
“The scourge of heroin is a deadly killer that does not discriminate. This office will do all it can to stem the tide and prosecute anyone who participates in its distribution in our communities,” Acting United States Attorney Bubar said today. “We will use all available resources and continue to closely partner with federal, state and local law enforcement to hold drug dealers like Lichliter and Neice, who seek to profit from this treacherous epidemic, responsible for their actions.”
According to court documents, beginning around June 2017 a Maryland-based drug-trafficking network began selling controlled substances to Virginia-based drug traffickers, who, in turn, transported those drugs to Shenandoah County for redistribution.
Defendants Craig Kidwell and his wife Norma Kidwell repeatedly traveled from their home in Shenandoah County to Maryland to obtain heroin from the Maryland-based drug-trafficking organization. At times, the heroin Craig Kidwell and Norma Kidwell obtained from their Maryland-based source was mixed with other drugs, such as fentanyl and acetyl fentanyl.
After obtaining heroin, Craig Kidwell and Norma Kidwell transported the drugs back to Shenandoah County where the drugs were redistributed to others, including, but not limited to, co-defendants Lichliter, Marston, and Neice, who redistributed the drugs to others around Shenandoah County.
As a direct result of the defendants’ drug distribution activities, two overdoses occurred, one of which resulted in the death of victim J.H.
The investigation of the case was conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration, Virginia State Police, Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office, and Woodstock Police Department with the assistance of the Shenandoah County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office and the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland. Assistant United States Attorney Jeb Terrien is prosecuting the case for the United States.
GO Virginia approves grant for Small Business Resiliency Teams
The GO Virginia State board has approved an $81,813 grant proposal submitted by a regional partnership between Harrisonburg Economic Development, Frederick County Economic Development, Shenandoah Valley Small Business Development Center (SV SBDC), and Lord Fairfax Small Business Development Center (LF SBDC). This grant creates a Small Business Resiliency Team (SBRT) program with the goal of providing expanded business support services and technical assistance to area businesses in the wake of COVID-19 challenges. The program will deploy Business Resiliency Navigators to guide growth-oriented businesses through a dedicated and well-designed process for achieving incremental and sustainable growth throughout the pandemic recovery period.
Business Resiliency Navigators will work directly with small businesses, assisting with E-commerce, Financial Management, and Marketing needs. The SBRT’s focus is on tourism, retail, healthcare, and professional services businesses, however other companies will be considered. In addition to providing assessments, development of action plans, strategic counseling, and targeted training, the program will provide for services such as accounting, bookkeeping, website development, or e-commerce assistance rendered by industry experts as recommended by the SBRT.
The Virginia Initiative for Growth and Opportunity (GO Virginia) is a business-led initiative that was formed to foster private-sector growth and diversification across nine economic development regions in the Commonwealth. The GO Virginia Board administers state financial incentives designated for regional projects in order to encourage collaboration between private sector companies, workforce, education, and government.
Participating localities include the counties of Augusta, Clarke, Frederick, Rockbridge, Rockingham, and Shenandoah; and the cities of Harrisonburg, Waynesboro, and Winchester. Patrick Barker, CEcD, Executive Director of Frederick County will administer the grant.
“This partnership will be able to provide significantly more assistance to keep businesses healthy and growing in spite of the pandemic. Our SBDCs can collaborate and meet needs of Economic Development Offices throughout the Shenandoah Valley. Our goals include improving the local economy, assisting the participating businesses, and providing contracted work to local vendors for professional services,” said Joyce Krech, Director of the Shenandoah Valley SBDC.
The SBRT program supports GO Virginia goals by expanding regional capacity to coordinate and deliver business support services; helping businesses utilize e-commerce to increase sales; reducing service and production disruptions; encouraging the use of a remote workforce to keep workers employed and productive; and expanding existing training programs that are mission-critical. Expected results from dedicated participants include overall average business growth and retention of their current workforce.
“This grant award will help us keep many of the region’s growth-oriented businesses on a positive financial trajectory towards sustainable success. We will leverage existing resources and utilize GO Virginia funds to provide focused, hands-on consulting, training, and contracted work,” states Christine Kriz, Director of the Lord Fairfax SBDC.
For more information on the Small Business Resiliency Teams, visit the SBDC Websites: ValleySBDC.org or lfsbdc.org. Or contact Joyce Krech, (540)568-3227, email@example.com or Christine Kriz, (540)868-7094, firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Small Business Development Centers. The SV and LF SBDCs are two of 27 Small Business Development Centers across Virginia providing professional business advice, training, and information resources to help grow and strengthen local businesses and Virginia’s economy. They are hosted respectively by James Madison University and Lord Fairfax Community College in partnership with George Mason University and funded in part by SBA and local governments. The Virginia SBDC Network (VirginiaSBDC.org) is the most extensive business development program in the Commonwealth and part of America’s SBDC – the nation’s proven, cost-effective, and accredited infrastructure focused on small businesses – America’s job creators.
Information for voters on recent Central VA USPS incidents
RICHMOND, VA – The Department of Elections was made aware that six outdoor mail collection boxes were broken into sometime between Saturday afternoon, October 3rd, and Monday morning, October 5th. At this time, the United States Postal Service is investigating. Neither the Department nor USPS has any information about whether any election mail was contained in the boxes.
Anyone who dropped mail in the boxes at the post offices between 3 p.m. Saturday and 7 a.m. this morning should contact a USPS hotline at 877-876-2455 to report it. Voters can track their ballot online to see if it has been received by going to “check my registration” at elections.virginia.gov/voterinformation. If a voter needs a new ballot issued, they should contact their local general registrar’s office at elections.virginia.gov/localGR. The following post offices were affected:
- 4990 Sadler Place
- 2000 Starling Drive
- 2100 E. Parham Road
- 7510 Lady Blair Lane
- 1201 Sycamore Square Drive
- 805 Glenburnie Road
Blue Ridge Wildlife Center Appoints a New Executive Director
The Blue Ridge Wildlife Center (BRWC) Board of Directors is pleased to announce the appointment of Annie Bradfield as its new Executive Director. Ms. Bradfield comes to BRWC with an extensive background in non-profit development and management. She brings more than a decade of non-profit experience with her, having worked for organizations that include Shenandoah University, American Bird Conservancy, Project HOPE, and Blue Ridge Hospice. Ms. Bradfield lives in Winchester, Virginia and attended Shenandoah University, where she earned her Bachelors of Science in Psychology and History.
“I am very grateful to the Blue Ridge Wildlife Center board for putting their faith in me to lead this wonderful organization and dedicated staff,” states Bradfield. “2020 has been a challenging year for non-profits and BRWC has certainly felt it in more ways than one. Already this year the center has admitted more patients than it did in all of 2019 with no additional staff or funding. It will be a challenge to make sure the center can get through the year with the proper equipment and supplies it needs. I am eager to get started and help the center achieve its mission.”
Beatrice von Gontard, Chair of the BRWC Board of Directors, stated, “The BRWC board would like to welcome Annie Bradfield to the team and thank Hillary Russell Davidson for her three years of service as Executive Director of the Blue Ridge Wildlife Center. We wish Hillary continued success in her future pursuits.”
Unfortunately, due to Covid-19, BRWC was not able to hold in-person educational programs or the annual fall gala this year, which contributes major funding to help wildlife in need. Providing things look better in 2021, the Center is planning to host its second annual “Wildfest” festival in the spring at the Berryville Fairgrounds. BRWC also looks forward to welcoming visitors to enjoy its educational tours and up-close encounters with wildlife ambassadors on the Wildlife Walkway.
Blue Ridge Wildlife Center is a full-service wildlife teaching hospital that cares for injured, sick, or orphaned native wildlife and teaches the public how to be good stewards of the land around us. BRWC is a non-profit organization that has been providing care to native wildlife, at no charge, in Northern Virginia since 2000.
To learn more about Blue Ridge Wildlife Center, please visit the organization’s website at www.blueridgewildlifectr.org.
Introducing the Virginia Maple Syrup Trail
Highland County is excited to further “tap” into what it is most known for – maple syrup – by introducing the Virginia Maple Syrup Trail! This passport program offers the public the chance to visit eight sugar camps in Highland County throughout the year to experience each one. Visitors are invited to call ahead to the participating sugar camps, schedule a visit for a tour, taste their syrup and get a stamp on the official Virginia Maple Syrup Trail Passport. After all eight camps are visited and the passport is complete, there is a free gift, but the real incentive is to have a one-on-one interaction with the unique people and places that produce pure Virginia maple syrup. Maple syrup can only be produced in late winter and early spring, but visitors can discover what happens on these farms and in Highland County year-round. This is a fun family agritourism opportunity to educate individuals on where this delicious product comes from.
Participating sugar camps include Back Creek Farms, Bruce’s Syrup and Candies, Duff’s Sugar House, Laurel Fork Sapsuckers, Mill Gap Farms, Puffenbarger’s Sugar Orchard, Sugar Tree Country Store and Sugar House, and Tonoloway Farm. Each sugar camp has something that makes it stand out from the rest, whether its their traditional or modern equipment and techniques, the size of their operation, or their farm offerings. On the trail, customers will get not only get a chance to learn about pure maple syrup, but also barrel-aged and infused varieties, as well as hickory, black walnut, and birch syrups. Some of the camps offer additional activities like hiking, interaction with farm animals, and shopping for unique gifts.
More information about the Virginia Maple Syrup Trail can be found at the newly created website. Official passports can be picked up at the sugar camps themselves, at local businesses in Highland County and at select Virginia Welcome Centers. Participation in the Virginia Maple Syrup Trail will exclude the busy Highland County Maple Festival weeks and weekends in March. However, visitors can experience the trail at other Highland County events, such as during the upcoming Hands & Harvest Festival with in-person offerings during October 9 – 11, 2020. Visitors are asked to follow the current CDC (www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/) and Virginia Guidelines (www.virginia.gov/coronavirus/ and www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/) for preventing the spread of coronavirus. Please stay home if you have symptoms, are in a “hot spot” area or are feeling sick.
The Virginia Maple Syrup Trail is brought to you by the Highland County Tourism Council, the Highland County Chamber of Commerce and participating sugar camps, with special thanks to the Virginia Tourism Corporation and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for additional funding.
The Highland County Chamber of Commerce is a 501(c)(6) membership nonprofit organization with a mission to lift up local businesses and entrepreneurs, promote Highland County, and champion economic prosperity and quality of life. For more information, please visit www.highlandcounty.org.