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An unprecedented number of opioid overdoses is plaguing Virginia Beach and the community is talking about it. Forty-five people in Virginia Beach have died from opioid overdoses this year, a 600-percent spike from 2010, according to the Virginia Beach Police Department.
Local criminal justice and addiction experts gathered Tuesday at the Meyera E. Oberndorf Central Library for a public viewing of “Chasing the Dragon: The Life of an Opiate Addict” and a discussion about drug abuse’s grip on Hampton Roads.
“When you get a prescription for Oxycodone, or whichever opioid you are prescribed, you’re essentially being prescribed heroin,” said Commonwealth’s Attorney for the City of Virginia Beach Colin Stolle. “The medical community is going to have to change the way it treats pain.”
There have been 262 reported overdoses in Virginia Beach since January. In an effort to assist opioid addicts, Stolle said Virginia Beach’s first drug court should open its doors beginning next year.
The Virginia Beach Police Department is also taking steps to save lives by allowing its officers to administer Narcan, which blocks opioid effects and reverses overdoses. Each dose costs about $53 and the police started this initiative with about 150 doses to deploy in the field.
“Late last year we started to research the application of Narcan as an antidote for opium,” said Virginia Beach Police Deputy Chief Tony Zucaro. “We’re the first police department in the commonwealth of Virginia that has officers carrying Narcan.”
The amount of heroin that infiltrates Hampton Roads is high, too.
“Last year we had seven tons of heroin confiscated,” said FBI Community Outreach Specialist Vanessa Torres. “We have two task forces here in the Tidewater area, one on the peninsula and one on the southside to try to prevent this problem … there is no immediate solution.”
The discussion panel also included Dr. David Langille and Dr. Saulo Ortiz. Virginian-Pilot reporter Gary Harki moderated the discussion. Virginia Beach Crime Solvers, an organization aiming to prevent local crime, sponsored the event.
“Chasing the Dragon: The Life of an Opiate Addict” is a documentary film created by the Drug Enforcement Association to raise awareness about the opioid and prescription drug abuse epidemic, according to the DEA. The film highlights seven people, dead and alive, who struggled with addiction, touching on themes like addiction risk, legal and health consequences, death and getting help.
The film’s title comes from a phrase that describes the “expression given to the pursuit of the original or ultimate, but unattainable high,” according to the DEA.
For more information about heroin and opioid addiction recovery in Virginia Beach, click here.
“We’re not going to arrest our way out of this situation,” said Zucaro. “There’s been a change of thinking, a paradigm change on dealing with offenders…We’re looking at the implications of each individual user, their loved ones, significant others and looking at alternate methods other than incarceration.”