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Fentanyl killed nearly 2,000 Virginians. Many didn't know they were using it.

Fentanyl killed nearly 2,000 Virginians. Many didn't know they were using it.
Posted at 5:18 PM, May 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-10 18:34:16-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Virginia Department of Health's most recent report shows drug-related deaths remain the leading unnatural cause of death in Virginia. The grim stat hit an all-time high in 2021 when over 2,600 Virginians died from drug overdoses. That was a 15-percent increase from 2020.

Many of those fatal drug overdoses, more than three-quarters, involved fentanyl.

On Tuesday, the country marked the first-ever National Fentanyl Awareness Day.

McShin Recovery Resource Foundation Outreach Director Nathan Mitchell said his battle to overcome addiction came to a crossroads when he encountered a program during his second stint in jail. That program helped him find purpose.

"To not only live life but to have a life worth living which was important to me," Mitchell said.

He has since channeled that purpose into his work with McShin and helping other people struggling with drug addiction.

"I get excited when somebody walks in the door and they're like, 'Hey, guess what? I got a job interview today.' Or, 'Hey, guess what? I got to see my kids over the weekend.' I'm getting teary-eyed thinking about it," Mitchell said.

But while the Henrico-based nonprofit works to help people overcome addiction, state and federal data showed deaths from drug overdoses continue to climb.

"Most of [the death] is being driven by illicit fentanyl," Rosie Hobron, Statewide Forensic Epidemiologist, Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, said. "Over three out of every four deaths in 2021 involved the drug and it's very lethal.

Hobron said it's a trend seen across the country, typically as the synthetic opioid is mixed in with other drugs, including illicit prescription drugs, without the user knowing.

"Very small portions can result in an overdose or an overdose death," she said.

On the first-ever National Fentanyl Awareness Day, groups and government agencies spoke out about the dangers it poses.

"It's important to know what you got," Mitchell said.

Mitchell said while the overall overdose deaths in Virginia represented a huge leap over the past decade, it did not include other addiction-related deaths, like deaths from liver or kidney disease. He said it spoke to the ongoing need of groups like McShin. He said McShin needed more funding to reach more people.

"When we invest in recovery we are investing in safer communities, we are building stronger families and we are making a healthier population," he said.

Mitchell said there are a few ways that the public can help out the McShin Foundation, whether it's giving your time as a volunteer, donating goods like pillows or socks or donating money.

The foundation will also have its annual fundraiser next Thursday. For more information, click here.

This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email newstips@wtvr.com to send a tip.

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