Opioid Ripples has been a six-month look into Piedmont Virginia’s opioid crisis. Here are key findings in the series: 

-- Overdose deaths are dropping in the Piedmont, but police say it's due more to the availability of Narcan than a drop in addiction. The epidemic is not over, and even if it were, its effects will be felt for generations.

--The Piedmont needs more doctors trained and certified to offer medication-assisted treatment and therapy to addicts. The trend is away from abstinence-based programs because some studies indicate that they're less effective.

-- Research has found that 50 to 60 percent of addiction is due to genetic factors. Children of addicts are eight times more likely to develop a substance addiction.

-- The Piedmont desperately needs foster families to take in children of addicted parents. At one point last year, Rappahannock County had only one foster family.

-- The number of Virginia babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) -- addicted to opioids —has risen steadily this decade, peaking in 2017. Culpeper, Fauquier and Orange counties had rates well above the state average of eight NAS babies per 1,000 births. The cost to hospitals of caring for NAS babies is three to four times higher than the cost of a normal birth.

-- The Piedmont has few treatment facilities, limited public transportation and next to no residential options for recovering addicts. In fact, the Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District has only one acute addiction treatment facility and still no “sober houses.”

-- The number of people between 18 and 30 diagnosed with hepatitis C each year has more than doubled in Virginia since 2011, largely attributable to a spike in heroin use. In recent years, the rate in Culpeper County has been at least three times higher than the state’s.

-- Some “harm reduction” programs, such as greater access to Narcan, have gained wide acceptance. But others, particularly efforts to set up clean-needle exchange programs, have made little progress.

-- Prevention needs to begin at early ages, experts say. In a 2017 survey in Culpeper, 12 percent of high school seniors said they had tried pain medications without prescriptions. Some local schools are now teaching coping skills and proper use of medicines beginning with elementary pupils.  

-- Safe disposal of unused opioids is needed. Nationally, 60 percent of those who said they misused opioids didn’t have a prescription; half got the drugs from friends or relatives. The Fauquier County Sheriff’s Department, Culpeper Police Department, Orange Police Department and Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Department now allow people to drop off unused drugs anytime.

-- Randy Rieland

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