Mark Herring is the Attorney General for the state of Virginia. He is also a father of young children. In 2014, he traveled some 2,200 miles around the state in a roughly two week period conducting a public safety tour. The message was the same from all the agencies that he visited. It resonated and impacted Herring on a professional and personal level.
Overdose deaths from heroin and other drugs was at epidemic proportions.
Herring visited in Culpeper in 2014 and was back again Tuesday.
“When I wrapped up that tour and ended up at a Fraternal Order of Police dinner in Loudoun County I heard from another who had lost a loved one to a drug overdose…I made a commitment that I wouldn’t let this happen to another child in Virginia,” said Herring as he addressed a group of town, county and state law enforcement officials.
During the last three years, summits have been held throughout the commonwealth attempting to warn communities about the lethal dangers of heroin, fentanyl and now carfentanil.
Herring’s office produced a video, “The Hardest Hit,” which focuses not only on the statistical realities of how many are using and how many communities are losing but shows that drug abuse knows no social or economic boundaries. Users are all ages, ethnic backgrounds and come from all walks of life.
Herring reported that last year Virginians lost 1,100 to overdose death.
“That means that families are struggling with empty bedrooms in their homes or an empty chair at the table,” said Herring adding that he had heard from a funeral director in Fauquier County that “he had never seen a wave like this and that it was tearing him apart.”
Herring shared that at the state level they are ‘robustly’ prosecuting the drug dealers.
Baltimore, Maryland came up.
The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has reported that Baltimore is the “nation’s center for drug distribution.” Much in part due to its proximity to ports.
Town of Police Captain Tim Chilton reported that they receive photographs of vehicles in Baltimore there to purchase drugs. “We know that many are from Culpeper,” said Chilton.
“They can make trips several times a day and purchase drugs from several different dealers,” echoed Captain Todd Taylor with the Virginia State Police.
Herring queried the group about cooperation with hospitals and social services.
“If there are programs that are working well, we’d like to learn if there is something successful,” said Herring.
Police Chief Chris Jenkins said that after Herring’s visit in 2014 that more dialogue started in the community. That being said overdoses continue on the rise. Narcan is saving lives but Jenkins is frustrated.
“What’s missing is treatment in our area…there are so many folks addicted to this drug…the threat of being arrested is not a deterrent,” said Jenkins.
Herring was not overly opposite that state funds would be immediately forthcoming to help boost treatment efforts.
“I wish I could say we had more resources at the state level.”
Jenkins said that they rely on social services but that “we’re falling short when advocating for someone who needs help today.”
All agreed that law enforcement aren’t the only ones facing this crisis. Healthcare providers are as well. Thirty days isn’t long enough to be in a treatment program. It takes a lot longer than that.
Outreach groups, like Team Jordan, and mental health awareness summits like the one to be hosted by Novant Health on May 23 do make a difference in terms of educating the public.
The problem seems to have been diagnosed to death.
It’s finding an effective solution that has everyone at the table frustrated.
The cost of Narcan is rising. Fortunately, as Chilton pointed out, that while a process it can be secured through grants.
Nick White from the Culpeper County’s Sheriff’s Office said that perhaps an unintended consequence is occurring.
“People know we are carrying Narcan…they’ll call us…but we don’t get much cooperation after we’ve shown up and administered the drug…in terms of who is supplying,” said White adding that they are seeing more and more overdoses in public areas.
Captain Chris Settle agreed.
“If they suspect they might overdose, they’ll do it in a public parking lot or Walmart bathroom because they know help is nearby.”
A recent FOX News documentary reported that 70-75 percent of users started with prescription drugs.
Herring encourages take back programs where residents can deposit unused prescription drugs in a safe place where they won’t be found in the trash or sold to a friend. He said that they have seen some changes in prescribing practices.
Herring thanked all for attending, encouraged support for any and/all programs that might be having an impact, and reiterated his ongoing advocacy at the state level.
“We all have to keep working relentlessly.”