More than 32 percent of adults in Northern Virginia have a family member or friend experiencing the disease of addiction. This presents a notable increase from a 2021 survey showing that 25 percent of local adults reported knowing someone hospitalized due to alcohol use or drug overdose.
The new data was released by Inova, a Northern Virginia nonprofit healthcare provider, as part of the fifth year of their “Act on Addiction” campaign, which strives to create a dialogue around addiction, the stigma around seeking treatment, and its impact on the community.
This new data comes at a time of dramatically increased opioid deaths in the United States, including in the Commonwealth of Virginia. In 2021, the US witnessed a grim milestone: for the first time, drug overdoses killed more than 100,000 people nationwide in a single year. Of those deaths, two-thirds were tied to fentanyl.
Between 2001 and 2021, the death rate due to opioid overdose in Virginia increased from seven per 100,000 to 26 per 100,000, according to the Inova data. The results of this year’s “Act on Addiction” survey underscore the presence of addiction among the younger generations in our community. According to the survey, a higher percentage of Millennial (39 percent), Gen X (38 percent), and Gen Z (32 percent) respondents, as compared with Baby Boomers (19 percent), reported having a family member or friend with addiction.
An effort to destigmatize the use of overdose reversal drugs that started as a pilot in two West Virginia counties has now expanded to all thirteen states in Appalachia. The first-ever “Appalachian Save a Life Day” recently came on the heels of the approval of naloxone (Narcan), the overdose-reversal drug that can now be purchased over the counter—a long-awaited victory toward normalizing and improving access to the decades-old, life-saving medication.
More than 30,000 doses of Narcan are being distributed in 13 states, including Virginia. Community organizations will then offer the drug for free at convenient locations like fast food restaurants, Walmarts, health departments, churches, convenience stores, and fire departments.
While most Virginians feel they know where to turn for help when assisting a friend or family member with a substance use disorder (SUD), Inova found that stigma and fear of judgment continue to prevent important conversations from taking place. Fear of family (59 percent) and friends (53 percent) finding out about an SUD are believed to be top deterrents for those experiencing addiction from seeking care or treatment.
“Admitting to others that you are suffering from a substance use or mental health disorder can be extremely difficult or impossible for some people. Many people can go years or decades without acknowledging to themselves that they are experiencing problematic substance use,” says New Paradigm Recovery Chief Operating Officer Joshua Cagney. “When people do work up the courage to ask for help, finding the right resources can be much harder than people imagine.”
New Paradigm Recovery primarily treats adults who live and work in and around the program’s Tyson’s Corner location. Many of its clients are high-performing and licensed professionals, career military members, and those experiencing the stress associated with the demands of balancing family and career obligations.
“While the disease of addiction is indiscriminate and affects people from every walk of life, people with different lived experiences and stressors also have different needs. No single treatment approach or provider is appropriately suited to the needs of all people. The diagnoses each client presents with, their medical histories, addiction histories, family and friend relationships, exposure to traumatic events, adverse life events, access to resources, and many other factors all play roles in aligning clients with treatment providers well-suited to their needs. The fact that not every treatment provider can help every client and family can come as a surprise to people new to treatment. The inability to find a provider to meet a person’s specific needs is one of the main causes of failed and repeated treatment episodes,” says Cagney.
New Paradigm Recovery and high-quality treatment providers throughout the behavioral healthcare field attempt to ensure that their services and specialties match client needs before a client is admitted to treatment. Carefully assessing client needs prior to intake reduces the chances that they disengage prematurely or need to be transferred to another provider. Ensuring a match also reduces clinician fatigue and stress because they know that they are able to address the needs of the program’s client population. At New Paradigm Recovery, working closely with clients, referents, and other client healthcare providers before starting treatment results in a better experience for clients and the treatment team. An experienced behavioral healthcare executive with broad knowledge of the treatment landscape, Cagney regularly helps individuals, families, and professionals seeking care find appropriate providers.
“By now, it should be clear to policymakers and the public that rates of addiction are at record levels nationwide. The death, pain, destroyed families, and productivity loss resulting from the addiction epidemic make it the leading cause of preventable death. However, what sometimes gets lost in this importnat discussion is that more people die annually from alcohol than from opioids. This is not solely a problem about opioid or fentanyl availability,” says Cagney. “Deaths and overdoses related to every form of controlled and illicit substance are rising. We have an addiction problem, not just an opioid problem.”
A June report from the American Psychological Association indicates that alcohol-related deaths rose 25 percent between 2019 and 2020 and that more people under age 65 died from alcohol in 2020 than from COVID-19.
“If we start to shift our collective focus from the problem of opioid availability to addiction, generally, we can start to realize that we need to be looking for reasons that people are developing addictive disorders with as much veracity as we are attempting to stop the flow of fentanyl and opioids. Changing our thinking in this way is critical because it starts to acknowledge the root causes of this crisis, which are not necessarily related to any one substance but to the reasons that people feel the need to use substances to feel normal or relieved,” Cagney continues. “When we start to look at the complexity of this disease and its underlying causes, we start to get a sense for the intensity of the need and the necessity of treatment resources that are up to the task.”