Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center, along with the Potomac Health Foundation and its partner, the Community Healthcare Coalition of Greater Prince William joined federal, state and local leaders to educate the community about the opioid crisis.

SNVMC helps host opioid addiction forum

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"It doesn't discriminate, there are no demographics, it affects every body..."

That was the word from Virginia State Health Commissioner Dr. Marissa Levine Thursday night, as she spoke to a packed crowd at Forest Park High School in Woodbridge about the growing opioid crisis communities are facing here at home and across the Commonwealth.

Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center, along with the Potomac Health Foundation and its partner, the Community Healthcare Coalition of Greater Prince William joined federal, state and local leaders to educate the community about this deadly issue.

The more than two-hour long event included facts, figures and “real talk” about this growing crisis from not only the healthcare community, but law enforcement and parents and students who have been affected by this issue.

Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center Director of Emergency Medicine Dr. Debra Lee sees the issue every day, “Opioid addiction is a brittle and heart breaking illness. The facts are staggering, over 2.5 million opioid addicted Americans and 33,000 annual deaths.”

The majority of people in the audience indicated they were parents, nearly half of those signaled they had been affected or had a loved one dealing with opioid addiction.

Dr. Lee says as a medical professional she takes her responsibility very seriously, “As a prescriber, I am mindful of the fact that 4 out of 5 heroin abusers begin through misuse of prescription opiates, that up to 10 percent of patients given even a 3 day prescription of opiates develop an opioid addition, 20% when given a 10 day supply.”

The problem isn’t going away. According to the Virginia Health Department, the number of fatal opioid overdoses continues to rise across the region, state and country. The region Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center serves is not immune to those trends. According to the Virginia Department of Health, in 2013 the area saw 29-opioid overdose deaths. In 2016, that number almost doubled to an estimated 56.

Thursday night’s summit was to arm the community with information about these drugs, the effect they can have and what parents should be looking for to hopefully catch drug use early before it becomes an addiction. The Coalition, including SNVMC, hosted this public event after community health assessments identified substance abuse/use as one of the top public health issues affecting the region.

And, Dr. Lee understands- as both a mom and medical provider, “As a parent, I am mindful of the fact that this disease has no demographic or socioeconomic barriers, effects adolescents and adults often with devastating consequences,” she explains.