12 April 2016
Heroin overdose killed 980 Virginians in 2014; more than drunk driving accidents, car crashes, or murders. It killed almost as many people as breast cancer, and if overdose deaths increased between 2014 and 2015 by the same percentage that they did between 2013 and 2014, it surpassed that number, too.
Virginia’s big cities – including Richmond, and Norfolk – and its metropolitan areas like Culpeper and Fairfax County – are struggling with a heroin epidemic that is threatening to swamp rehab and medical facilities and strain the resources of law enforcement and the criminal justice system – so it might be considered an issue endemic to urban areas.
But if you think heroin is not a problem in Fluvanna, you are wrong. “Because of the nature of Fluvanna,” said Fluvanna County Commonwealth’s Attorney Jeff Haislip, “we are not in the hub of it, like Richmond or Culpeper where they have major dealers; we have more users here; but I don’t ever want to downplay the seriousness of the heroin problem here, because it only takes one time to overdose.”
“We largely missed out on the meth epidemic, thankfully,” said Haislip. “That drug tended to stay along interstate corridors and places where people can purchase the materials they need to make it.”
“Heroin is a much bigger wave,” Haislip explained, “and we have not missed out on that. We find people with heroin on them regularly; we have one person who overdosed last year, and we have a number of people who come through the court system because of heroin,” he said.
Fluvanna Lieutenant David Wells agreed that heroin is a problem in Fluvanna, calling it “part of the national trend of the growing opioid problem.”
So, why is Fluvanna fertile ground for heroin abuse, when other major drug problems seem to have passed us by? The answer seems to lie with prescription painkillers.
Opium-based painkillers, like oxycontin or oxycodone, are highly addictive and were at one time poorly controlled; they were easy to find on the streets and abused. Once prescribed opioids became less available, addicts turned to heroin to feed their opium addiction.
“For ten years or more we’ve had this glut of painkillers out on the streets, and that is where this all started,” asserted Haislip.
“Studies and experience tell me that is true. You have people who were taking methadone pills, taking oxycontin – there was a time when everybody we pulled over had a pill in their pocket of some type.”
Pill dealing was a difficult crime to break; unlike other illegal drugs, where there is a central dealer handling a large amount of product, these pills were sold by individuals who stole a bottle of pills from a friend’s medicine cabinet; or tricked a doctor into prescribing pain medication for them, only to sell it on the streets. Because those selling the drugs sold small amounts, it was almost impossible to identify and prosecute them.