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Virginia Governor declares war on fentanyl as death rate skyrockets

By Ben Marquis
|
May 12, 2023

There is broad bipartisan agreement that fentanyl, a synthetic opioid far more powerful than heroin and morphine, is a terrible and dangerous drug that is responsible for tens of thousands of overdose deaths annually across the nation.

Now Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has essentially declared war on fentanyl and mobilized elements of the Commonwealth's government to combat the illicit deadly drug, the Daily Mail reported.

Fentanyl is believed to have been responsible for at least 1,950 of the 2,104 total drug overdose deaths in Virginia in 2022 and the governor aims to reduce that number by at least 20 percent before his term in office expires.

The drug in powder form and/or its precursor chemicals are often manufactured in China and India and are then shipped directly to the U.S. and Mexico, where it is then further processed into pills or laced into other illicit drugs -- such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines, among others -- before being smuggled into the U.S. and distributed into communities nationwide.

"We Must Act"

Gov. Youngkin issued a news release on Tuesday to both recognize May 9 as National Fentanyl Awareness Day as well as to unveil his "comprehensive plan" to combat the "opioid crisis" and "serious public health emergency," given that drug overdose deaths now outnumber both motor vehicle- and gun-related deaths combined in Virginia.

"Fentanyl poisoning has devastated families and communities across Virginia," Youngkin said in a statement. "We cannot stand by as Virginians lose their lives when there are steps we can take to combat this deadly fentanyl poisoning crisis. We must act."

"I am confident that together these measures are significant steps to reduce the occurrence of fentanyl overdoses and deaths in the Commonwealth," he added.

Joining the governor was Virginia's Secretary of Health and Human Resources John E. Littel, who said, "Today, five Virginians will die from fentanyl. Tomorrow and every day this year, an average of five Virginians will die from this deadly drug," and thanked Youngkin for his attention to the matter and his efforts to address it.

The "Comprehensive Fentanyl Strategy"

Along with the news release came the issuance of Executive Order 26, which broadly outlined Gov. Youngkin's "first-of-its-kind comprehensive fentanyl strategy."

The strategy aims to "(1) enhance public safety measures to counteract activity by illicit drug manufacturers and distributors; (2) invest in and enhance prevention and recovery efforts; (3) educate our communities for action to address fentanyl and opioid abuse and overdoses; (4) expand access to evidence-based treatments; and (5) comprehensively organize our government to transform and strengthen Virginia's response to the fentanyl opioid crisis."

As part of the "Prevention and Treatment" plan, Youngkin directed the Virginia Department of Health and similar county-level entities to stockpile supplies of naloxone, a nasal spray that immediately counteracts opioid overdoses and can save lives if utilized in a timely fashion.

He also ordered the development of a plan "to utilize and fund wastewater surveillance to detect the frequency, potency, and occurrences of fentanyl use in specific locations" in order to more efficiently direct resources to where they were needed most, and also encouraged more counseling and other services for children whose parents had died from a drug overdose.

The governor also directed the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security to work with the Virginia State Police to develop a plan to "combat illicit trafficking" and the sale of fentanyl in the state, as well as to work with the federal government on ways to interdict the drug at Virginia's borders.

He also ordered eight different state government departments and agencies to work collaboratively on sharing data on drug overdose deaths as well as for the state and local health departments to work with local law enforcement to follow up on those overdose deaths in order to "identify the source of the drug and recommend immediate actions to prevent further overdoses."

Fentanyl Accounts For Around 65 Percent of Drug Overdose Deaths

The Daily Mail reported that fentanyl was first developed in the 1960s and initially had legitimate uses as a powerful anesthetic and pain reliever, particularly for cancer patients.

Unfortunately, within the past decade, it has increasingly found its way into the illicit drug supply in America, often mixed in with other illicit drugs, which has led to a surge in overdose deaths as unwitting consumers ingest the opioid that can be fatal in minuscule amounts.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is estimated that fentanyl was responsible for at least 70,000 of the approximately 107,000 drug overdose deaths across the U.S. in 2022 alone.