Heroin overdoses outnumber highway fatalities

Illustration by Shannon Wright
Illustration by Shannon Wright

More than 100 people filed into the basement of an Episcopal church and one by one, they occupied each metal folding chair. The smell of coffee lingered as the assembly of people, seemingly from all walks of life, filled the room with low murmurs and greetings.

“At one point today I said ‘fuck it, it’d be much easier to use.’ I’m not going to, but that thought still came into my head,” a woman said to the room full of people — some nodding as she spoke, others with their heads bowed, all of them listening intently. “This program saved my life. I have nothing. I have a phone with like a plan. I was so excited, I had a bill, I hadn’t had a bill in three years. Thanks for letting me share, guys.”

“Thanks for sharing,” the room echoed back.

Each person in the basement seemed grateful — because they were alive, because of another day clean, because, through Narcotics Anonymous, they had found a lifeline. As each survival story closed, another survivor spoke to share their story.

“I don’t have a lot of shit,” another woman said from the front of the room. “You get shit back though, and that’s the amazing thing about this program. But you go back out, and you lose it faster than you gained it.”

For the people who filled the basement of the church, just a few blocks from the heart of campus, loss meant different things.

A man told the story of how he lost thousands of dollars in a matter of weeks to his addiction; a teenage boy shared about making his mom proud for the first time in a long time, and about losing his best friend to an overdose.

Their stories aren’t uncommon.

In 2014, more lives were lost due to drug related deaths than freeway accidents, according to recent statistics released by the Virginia government.

Heroin and opioid use claimed the lives of 728 Virginians — 28 more than highway fatalities. The highway death toll in 2013 was 741 compared to 661 from overdoses. In 2009, there were 750 traffic fatalities and 504 deaths from heroin and opioids.

Illustration by Shannon Wright
Illustration by Shannon Wright

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found a new correlation between highway and drug related deaths; as the highway deaths decrease, drug related fatalities rise.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring is addressing the troubling rise in heroin and prescription drug overdoses in the Commonwealth. Herring reported on milestones in the first year of his Five Point Plan to Combat Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse.

Launched in September 2014, Herring’s plan outlines legislative, prosecutorial and educational efforts that build on the efforts of other state and federal agencies to combat prescription drug and heroin abuse.

The Attorney General’s Office (OAG) is working with local Commonwealth’s Attorneys and the U.S. Attorneys for the Eastern and Western Districts to prosecute heroin fatality cases at the federal level where statutes are more effective.

The plan also include regional prosecutors from the Office of Attorney General in Northern Virginia, Central Virginia, and Western Virginia have been instructed to prioritize heroin and prescription abuse cases. Prosecutors can either assist local Commonwealth’s Attorneys with complex cases, take them to one of Virginia’s twelve multi-jurisdictional grand juries or work with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to prosecute cases federally.

This is also the first time an OAG prosecutor is stationed in Hampton Roads, Virginia with the task of prioritizing heroin and prescription drug cases.

Far too many Virginians are losing loved ones to prescription drug abuse and the resurgence of cheap, potent heroin,” Herring said. “There’s no silver bullet to this spike in opiate abuse and fatalities, but we’ve identified things we can do right away to help turn the tide, and hopefully save lives.”

Herring said commitment from all levels of government to prevent, educate, treat, enforce and prosecute.

According to the CDC, heroin use more than doubled among young adults ages 18–25 in the last decade. More than nine in ten people who used heroin also used at least one other drug.

Over the last year, federal-state cooperative efforts have dismantled what is thought to have been the largest heroin-trafficking operation in Hampton Roads, Herring said.

In Hampton Roads, the number of heroin and other opiate deaths went down more than eight 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 said federal-state coordination is more evident and that regional drug task force coordinators with expertise in drug prosecutions are being placed in all regions of the state.

Regulatory boards are putting screws to bogus prescription scams through license revocations and suspensions.

Last April, The State Board of Pharmacy shut down the prescription department of Westbury Pharmacy, alleging, among other violations, that the pharmacy failed to take steps to prevent theft of nearly 50,000 oxycodone tablets by an employee.

“I could live the rest of my life living paycheck to paycheck as long as I have a roof over my head but if that means a girl calls me at 2 a.m. and says ‘I want to get high, help me get through this,’” a woman said, looking around the room at the many young, 20-somethings who sat around her.

If I have to live the rest of my life through this shit but I get to save another woman from not dying, then that fulfills my spirit and my soul.”

If you, or someone you know is struggling with addiction, reach out to the Well or VCU Counseling Services. Rams in Recovery is an official VCU student group started in the fall of 2013.

Rams in Recovery student group meetings are held every Friday at the Wellness Resource Center from 2-3 p.m.

On-Campus meeting times
Student Commons, Wednesdays 12 p.m: AA
Hibbs 403, Fridays 8:30 p.m: AA
Hibbs 328, Sundays 8 p.m: NA
819 S. Cathedral Place, Mondays 7:15 p.m: SMART Recovery

The Wellness Resource Center
815 S. Cathedral Place
Call (804) 828-2086 or email recovery@vcu.edu.

Sophia Belletti, Staff Writer

11802522_10207448112303567_588286187022952754_oSophia is a sophomore journalism major who writes for the Odyssey in addition to the news, sports and spectrum sections of the CT. Sophia also works in sales at Nordstrom and likes hiking and going to concerts. // Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIn


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