Opioid overdoses more lethal than driving in Virginia

The number of heroin and other opioid overdoses has been steadily growing since 2009


Jonathan Edwards
The Virginian-Pilot

NORFOLK, Va. — Deaths from heroin and opiate use outnumbered highway fatalities in Virginia for the first time last year, although they went down a bit in Hampton Roads after a big jump the year before.

Records show that 728 Virginians died from drug overdoses in 2014, while 700 people died on the state's roads.

The increase came despite stronger efforts to prevent heroin use, a focus that was announced a year ago by Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring.

"The heroin and prescription drug epidemic is a public health issue, a public safety and law enforcement issue and, most importantly, it's a family issue," Herring said in a news release.

The highway death toll in 2013 was 741, while there were 661 drug-related deaths. And in 2009, there were 750 traffic fatalities and 504 deaths from heroin and opioids.

In Hampton Roads, the number of heroin and other opiate deaths went down more than 8 percent between 2013 and last year. But that came after the number had skyrocketed 73 percent, from 83 deaths in 2012 to 144 in 2013.

Herring's office outlined the efforts made to help recovering addicts and decriminalize behaviors that can save lives.

For instance, new laws were passed that provide immunity to law enforcement officers who administer Naloxone to counteract drug overdoses.

Herring also said that during the past year, there have been 28 prosecutions against dealers and traffickers.Those cases recovered 95.4 kilograms of heroin valued at over $19 million. In addition, during the past year, authorities have dismantled what is thought to have been the largest heroin-trafficking operation in Hampton Roads.

The state also launched initiatives to familiarize students with the consequences of drug use. Officials are also cracking down on prescription scams.

Herring said last week that he hopes the new statistics help officials realize how urgently solutions are needed to solve the heroin epidemic.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

©2015 The Virginian-Pilot

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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