As Lawmakers Mull Medicaid Expansion, ER Visits Related to Opioid Use Continue to Rise

May 16, 2018

Downtown Waynesboro. The small town in the Shenandoah Valley has seen the largest increase of emergency room visits related to opioid use in the state since 2015.
Credit Creative Commons

The opioid crisis continues to plague Virginia, and some are hoping members of the General Assembly might be able to take action to do something about it.

Since 2015, the number of emergency room visits for opioids has increased 25% in Virginia. One of the areas hardest hit is the tiny city of Waynesboro in the Shenandoah Valley. Back in 2015 Waynesboro had two ER visits for opioids. By 2017, it had 26.

Jennifer Lewis is a mental health worker for the community service board in Waynesboro and a Democrat running for Congress. She says some of the areas that would benefit the most from expanding Medicaid are also the most resistant.

“I would bet that a lot of people who are against expanding Medicaid, if these circumstances were impacting their family they might have a different opinion on that.”

Michael Cassidy at the Commonwealth Institute says expanding Medicaid would provide Addiction and Recovery Treatment Services to people who desperately need it.

“By expanding coverage under our state Medicaid program as currently being debated by the General Assembly, that would mean more folks would get coverage and that coverage would give them access to this new and effective program for helping tackle the opioid crisis here in Virginia.”

But Senate Republicans are standing against expanding Medicaid. They say the federal government may be paying for it now, but they’re concerned expanding health insurance to people who live in poverty or with disabilities would eventually cripple Virginia’s finances.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.