Heroin overdoses on the rise throughout Central Virginia

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Law enforcement in our area are seeing a marked increase in heroin use, overdoses and deaths.

Just this past weekend alone, Richmond saw two overdoses with one death from heroin. They come as the chiefs of police in Richmond, Henrico and Chesterfield, the Hanover sheriff, along with the DEA have been meeting regularly to figure out what to do about this dangerous trend.

The call comes in as a "person down" or "DOA." Officers arrive to find a victim unconscious, passed out or even turning blue. Sometimes there are the telltale signs of a spoon, tourniquets or syringe next to the body. It's a scene that's becoming all too familiar for authorities throughout Central Virginia.

Hanover Sgt. Chris Whitley compares using heroin to Russian Roulette.

"You could shoot that heroin into your vein and just like pulling the trigger on the gun," he explained. "That bullet can go off. No different when you're pushing a syringe into your veins or sniffing it. It can be one and done."

In Hanover in all of 2012, there were ten overdoses. Already this year, it's surpassed that with 13.

"Behind every overdose, particularly behind every death there's a human being, who either has a severe addiction or has made an incredibly bad choice and it not only affects them, it affects their families, their friends," Whitley added.

The City of Richmond is also on track to exceed last year's total. There were 35 overdoses in the entirety of 2012. So far this year, there have been 23.

Richmond Police Capt. Marty Harrison says there's no one reason for the uptick.

"When you have new people that are using, people that have maybe kicked the habit and then gone back to it, have relapsed and then they're mixing heroin with other drugs," he described.

Henrico is also getting hit. In all of 2012, authorities saw 49 overdoses. With half of the year behind us, it's already seen 28 cases. Chesterfield is also seeing overdoses, although the numbers are not as staggering.

The usage knows no boundaries, geographical or otherwise.

"If you thought about heroin back in the 70s you'd think that's some guy that's in the gutter but now we're seeing people from all walks of life: people ranging from in their 20s to in their 50s and affluence has no bearing on it," Capt. Harrison said.

Authorities are hoping getting the message out might help decrease some of the numbers.

"The more minds you have thinking about it and trying to combat it probably the easier it is going to be to come up with an answer," Harrison added. "We don't think we're going to solve the heroin issue tomorrow or the next day, but what we want to do is put some public awareness out there."

It's important to note, with heroin overdoses the faster paramedics get to the scene to treat a patient, the less likely it is that situation will turn deadly.

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