Local group formed to battle heroin epidemic meets for first time

Credit: WAVY/Brandi Cummings
Credit: WAVY/Brandi Cummings

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Wednesday was the first meeting for a group working to stop the prescription opiate and heroin epidemic in Hampton Roads.

U.S. Attorney Dana Boente and Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring met at the Slover Library in Norfolk this morning to launch the Hampton Roads Heroin Working Group.

They talked with law enforcement, medical experts and the public to find new ways to fight the drug crisis.

The DEA said early Wednesday morning that Hampton Roads has the highest rate of fatal heroin and prescription drug overdoses in the first six months of 2016.

Statistics show drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S. Opioid addiction is driving that epidemic.

It’s such a big national issue, this week was designated “Heroin and Opioid Awareness Week.”

Both Attorney General Mark Herring and the U.S. Attorney Dana Boente said in order to really stop the heroin epidemic, everyone from medical professionals, law enforcement and the community must be involved.

“That’s the only way we’re really going to be able to address it is this all hands on deck approach to really get this turned around,” Herring said.

The Hampton Roads Heroin Working Group plans to target and dismantle drug traffickers and address the demand for the drugs.

“We wouldn’t tolerate it and we haven’t tolerated it in the cases of fatal accidents that result in alcohol. We’ve gotten much, much more serious on alcohol related car accidents in the last 20 years and we need to have a similar approach to this problem,” Boente said.

The statistics are staggering. According to estimates, there were 1,000 heroin and prescription drug overdose deaths in 2015. That’s more than the number of people who will die in auto accidents this year.

Crime analysts say a new trafficking trend that is of particular concern is drugs from the Mexican cartels coming directly to Hampton Roads.

“It is really constantly evolving. We also see different kinds of drugs being brought in and marketed,” Herring said.

Leaders say the abuse of these drugs requires more than just a law enforcement solution. Instead they will also focus on education, prevention and treatment while engaging community leaders and medical professionals.

“I think this is a unique and complex problem because in a lot of ways the heroin and fentanyl and the problems that we’re seeing with those very often have their start in the medicine cabinet,” Herring said. “That’s why all families need to be talking about this now.”

Herring said the community-based regional approach could provide a good model that, if successful could be replicated in other regions of the state.

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