Heroin gripping Virginia Beach tighter than ever

Heroin is on track to kill more people in Virginia Beach this year than any year before.

A fatal overdose over the weekend was at least the 29th in 2015, according to Police Chief James Cervera, who briefed the City Council Tuesday on growing problems related to heroin and guns.

Last year there were 10 fatal heroin overdoses. That’s a third of this year’s tally, which has nearly three months left to swell, Cervera said.

The drug’s rapid growth is more sharply illustrated by looking at total overdoses. In 2012, there were 16. Between January and September this year, there have been 109.

“That’s an extremely high number,” Cervera said.

Statewide, it was reported Tuesday that heroin has killed more Virginians this year than traffic accidents.

The sharp rise in heroin use and the drug’s wide appeal have prompted police to fight it in new ways.

Beach police have recently dedicated a special investigations unit to heroin cases and trained all officers to respond to the drug. The department has also launched an education campaign and stocked up on naloxone, a drug that counteracts the effects of an overdose.

Officers have been working closely with the health department to learn how to use naloxone to prevent an overdose from becoming fatal, Cervera said.

“We are now venturing into an area that police do not normally venture into,” Cervera said. “And that is administering some kind of a drug.”

Heroin, which is often cut with other deadly drugs, is particularly problematic because of its relatively low price, Cervera said. Prescription drug addicts turn to it during withdrawal when doctors cut them off. And it’s deadly to newly released addicts who reach for it after a prison stay has lowered their tolerance, Cervera said.

Heroin grips white males tighter than other demographics in Virginia Beach; they account for about 61 percent of all users in the city. But there is no age group that uses more than others, Cervera said, adding that teens and seniors use it nearly as much as each other.

Cervera said his department is presently doing OK fighting heroin “with what it has.” Recruiting more officers to investigate cases and getting residents to prevent loved ones from developing an addiction could be two of its most valuable strategies, he said.

His briefing comes after some high profile cases, including the slaying of a pharmacist near the Oceanfront last April, Cervera said. He could not comment on other, active cases, he said.

Overall, heroin has not caused violent crime to statistically rise in Virginia Beach, the chief said. In fact, while heroin use has grown over the past few years, violent crime has been declining, he said.

The chief noted that crimes involving guns have slightly increased in the Beach during the past three years, though he said that statistic has risen more sharply elsewhere in the nation.

Heroin use comes and goes in cycles, Cervera said, and it’s back.

“It’s just one of those things that has reared its ugly head again,” he said.


Heroin overdoes in Virginia Beach

2012: 16

2013: 76

2014: 56

2015: 109 (as of September)

Fatal overdoses

2012: 9

2013: 23

2014: 10

2015: 28 (as of September)

Source: Virginia Beach Police

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