RICHMOND, Va. -- Richmond Ambulance Authority Capt. Wes Wampler battled on the frontlines as he fights against the ongoing opioid crisis.
Recently he’s witnessed a growing number of individuals who are seeking help for an addiction.
“We hear on the radio when Narcan is being given. It just seemed the number of calls I’ve run that it felt like it was more prevalent. It felt like it was becoming a bigger issue than before,” Capt. Wampler explained.
Data obtained by WTVR CBS 6 supported Wampler’s experiences.
RAA administered Narcan to 778 patients experiencing a suspected opioid overdose in 2019. That number rose to 1,075 patients who were given the drug that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose in 2020.
Emergency room visits in the city for opioid overdoses also rose compared to previous years. In 2019, there were 429 visits to the ER for drug overdoses - a rate of 15.7 visits for every 100,000 people. That figure increased to 677 ER visits in 2020 - a rate of 24.7 visits for every 100,000 people.
The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Richmond determined there were 154 deaths linked to opioid overdoses in 2020, according to Julie Kerr, opioid coordinator with the Richmond City Health District. In 2019, the office reported 76 opioid overdoses that led to death.
Kerr said we can’t entirely blame the pandemic for the increase in cases.
In 2020, Virginia enacted new legislation that would eliminate the risk of criminal charges for an individual who calls emergency services on behalf of or in the presence of someone who has overdosed.
She suggested that more individuals may be seeking help from law enforcement and first responders.
You can get naloxone at pharmacies such as Walgreens or CVS Pharmacy. Additionally, Richmond City Health District provides dispensing of naloxone free of charge.
Walk-in dispensing is temporarily suspended during COVID, but residents can access free naloxone by calling (804) 592-8069.
Kerr pointed out that the issue isn’t just limited to city limits.
In 2019, Chesterfield saw 396 emergency room visits for opioid overdoses - or 9.1 visits for every 100,000 people. That number increased to 503 ER visits in 2020 - or 11.4 visits for every 100,000 people.
Henrico reported 494 visits to the ER in 2019 - for a rate of 12.6 visits for every 100,000 people. In 2020, that number increased to 764 visits - or 19.3 visits for every 100,000 people.
The state average for 2020 is 9.8 visits per 100,000 people.
Richmond has tackled on the epidemic by increasing the number of doses of Narcan or naloxone that’s available in the public.
Last year, RCHD handed out 5,400 doses of naloxone to members of the community to reach more people struggling with addition. That’s double the number of doses given to the public two years ago.
EMTs with RAA also participate in a program called First Responders for Recovery. They connect their patients on scene who have experienced an overdose with resources to help kick their addiction.
Capt. Wampler said that’s one way RAA and the community help provide the vital resources to those who need help the most.
“We do have a bigger purpose than just giving Narcan,” he said.