VA Secretary of Health and Human Resources talks opioid epidemic with first responders

Sec. William Hazel addresses a group of first responders at Carilion Stonewall Jackson Hospital. (Photo: Annie Andersen)

LEXINGTON, Va. (WSET) --Opioid addiction is out of control in Rockbridge County, as it is in many rural areas.

In 2016, 1428 Virginians died from drug overdoses. This year is on pace to exceed that.

State Secretary of Health and Human Resources William Hazel told a group of emergency responders, "Today, we have an addiction crisis."

Hazel spoke to them at a meeting at Carilion Stonewall Jackson Hospital. Using graphs, including heat maps showing overdoses, Hazel showed the group just how big the opioid problem has become.

Hazel said, "We are still in the acute phase because, lets face it. We have people who are addicted. And only 3 things can happen when people are addicted- they can get into recovery, which is a life time. They die, or they live with the harm they cause themselves and others."

As the head of Carilion's Emergency Department, that's something Dr. John Burton sees daily.

Burton stated, "When you see somebody, there's a 10 percent probability they'll be dead in the next year."

He said it's not a statistic they would accept for any other type of illness, but it's one they've been forced to for opioids.

He says the addiction is so powerful, it's hard to treat.

And even when they can, people often can't get the help they need for months because treatment facilities are full.

When asked what would help, Burton said "More rehabilitation programs is what we need. And in-patient rehabilitation programs."

Hazel says he's aware there's a need, but finding the money for it has been hard.

He explained, "To do something uniquely Virginian, if you you have to come up with the general fund match at 50-50. If we do the Medicaid expansion, then you're looking at over 90 percent Federal funding."

As a doctor, Burton doesn't care where the money comes from. He just wants to help people kick their addiction. Adamently, he said "We just need more money."

ABC 13 contacted four Virginia Republican lawmakers to comment on this story. None responded.

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