AG Herring: Anyone can die from opioid abuse

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — Attorney General Mark Herring says the number of people dying in the Commonwealth from opioid abuse is increasing rapidly, and is now at a rate greater than deaths from traffic accidents.

Herring addressed a group of about 200 teachers, nurses, police and support providers at a symposium Wednesday in Newport News.

“The target audience for this message is… everyone,” Herring said as he began his presentation at the Denbigh Community Center.

The attorney general cited data that shows the sharp rise in fatalities from opioid overdose, a category that includes heroin, fentanyl and prescription painkillers.

Herring says Hampton Roads is especially prone to deaths from fentanyl.

“[It’s] incredibly powerful, 100 times more powerful than morphine, and it’s being mixed in with the heroin and making it very deadly.”

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Herring talked about a fentanyl pipeline where the chemicals are made in China, then shipped to cartels in Mexico, who then blend fentanyl with heroin to make it more potent before it’s sold in the United States. Herring told the audience that opioid deaths are rooted in medicine cabinets, not the streets. People start with pain killers but then graduate to heroin and fentanyl.

“This can happen to anyone.”

Nurse Candace Collins says she’ll take away from the meeting the need to spread the message, starting with her own kids.

“Getting the message out to them and their friends about how one simple pill can lead to the next and lead to the next.”

Milcah Wade works with Catholic Charities of Eastern Virginia. She says she sees opioid abuse as a symptom of a larger crisis.

“What really concerns me is the families are in pain. And they use the drugs to sedate themselves, so I think that’s what we need to do is find out what is the core of the problem, the pain,” Wade said.

Pamela Person says she was thrust into the opioid crisis in December, when her son overdosed the week before Christmas. She says that’s when she realized that support agencies are overwhelmed because opioid abuse is so widespread. Person says that’s when family members have to be especially strong and supportive.

“The best thing I can tell people is to have faith and not stop.”