Hospital on frontline of opioid epidemic

Published 6:10 pm Wednesday, February 17, 2021

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Dr. Sonya L. Lee

By Dr. Sonya L. Lee

The surge in COVID-19 is steady on the rise in the United States. Yet as the number of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths all rise, the country continues to deal with a concurrent epidemic affecting Americans: A drug overdose epidemic driven by illicit fentanyl, methamphetamine and cocaine. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) noted that the death rate from drug overdoses accelerated as the coronavirus pandemic set in, disrupting daily life and leading to isolation, depression, anxiety and economic distress for many, including people with a substance use disorder.

Over 81,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States in the 12 months ending in May 2020, the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period, according to recent provisional data from the CDC. While overdose deaths were already increasing in the months preceding the 2020 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the latest numbers suggest an acceleration of overdose deaths during the pandemic.

In 2018, The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported for the State of Virginia “Opioids were involved in 46,802 (a rate of 14.6) overdose deaths in 2018 — nearly 70% of all overdose deaths. Deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone (including fentanyl and fentanyl analogs) continued to rise with more than 28,400 (a rate of 9.9) overdose deaths in 2018.”

“The disruption to daily life due to the COVID-19 pandemic has hit those with substance use disorder hard,” said CDC Director Robert Redfield, M.D. “As we continue the fight to end this pandemic, it’s important to not lose sight of different groups being affected in other ways. We need to take care of people suffering from unintended consequences.”

Bon Secours Southampton Medical Center, located in the heart of Franklin, Virginia, has one of the first lines of defense against tackling the opioid epidemic and substance use disorder. Southampton Medical Center is home to one of the few medical detoxification facilities in Hampton Roads. Medical detoxification, or medical detox, is an essential first step in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction. Medical drug detox is indicated for all individuals who have shown signs of physical and psychological dependence on a substance.

Medical detox refers to ridding the body of toxic addictive substances under the supervision of a team of licensed medical professionals. Each step of the detoxification process is supervised by a physician-led medical team of experienced nurses and clinical staff, all of whom have been trained in the treatment and management of addiction. For most people who seek inpatient or residential drug and alcohol treatment, medical detoxification is the first priority, and detox occurs at the beginning of treatment. While detox by itself is not considered addiction treatment, those who complete medical detox are more likely to stay in treatment longer and have longer stretches of sobriety

It is important to provide treatment for people struggling with opioid use disorder to prevent overdose or even death. Collaboration is essential for success in preventing opioid overdose deaths. Medical personnel, emergency departments, first responders, public safety officials, mental health and substance use treatment providers, community-based organizations, public health and members of the community all bring awareness, resources and expertise to address this complex and fast-moving epidemic. Together, we can better coordinate efforts to prevent opioid overdoses and deaths.

To find out more about the Bon Secours Southampton Medical Center detox, call 1-833-887-1988 or visit

DR. SONYA L. LEE is the director of behavioral services at Bon Secours Southampton Medical Center, and leads the Southampton Medical Center detox program. She can be contacted at or 757-516-1145.