Approximately 1,000 Virginians die of opioid overdoses each year. Attorney General Mark R. Herring is combatting the epidemic through a multi-faceted approach that includes education, intervention, prevention, and legislation.

On Monday May 22, Attorney General Mark R. Herring visited the Loudoun County Sherriff's Office. There he introduced the most recent effort by his campaign to fight the opioid epidemic. Herring presented a 10-minute video titled "When Seconds Count: How Law Enforcement Can Save a Life during an Overdose." The video, to be distributed to every law enforcement agency in the State, informs law enforcement officers about identifying overdoses and saving lives once an overdose has occurred. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j2joLjt3WBA[/embed] Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman prepared a statement for Monday's meeting:
"We understand we cannot arrest our way out of this problem, this is why we have taken a proactive approach with our partners in the community to develop educational and prevention programs to help those addicted to opioids... Equipping our deputies with Naloxone has helped save lives in Loudoun County, but this is just one part of our efforts to combat this epidemic."
In 2015, the General Assembly passed Herring-backed bill that authorized any law enforcement agency in Virginia to use Naloxone. Naloxone is a prescription drug that counteracts the effects of a heroin or prescription opioid overdose. The drug saves lives, but it doesn't address the root of the problem: the proliferation of dangerous opioids.

The Hardest Hit

The Hardest Hit is the companion site of Herring's campaign and its education and prevention initiatives. The site features the award-winning documentary “Heroin: The Hardest Hit.” The documentary features Virginians sharing their stories of addiction, overdose, and recovery. It also includes viewpoints from medical professionals and law enforcement officials who are working to combat the epidemic in Virginia. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kVd8rxe-bBA[/embed] In addition to the documentary, The Hardest Hit website features resources, fact sheets, and more video resources.

"It has its roots in the medicine cabinet."

While The Hardest Hit focuses on the effects of heroin, the opioid epidemic is worsened by the spread of dangerous concoctions of heroin and synthetic opioids like Fentanyl and Carfentanil. While the stigma surrounding opioid abuse perpetuates the assumption that opioid addicts start out on street drugs, the truth is that often opioid addiction begins much closer to home. On Monday, Herring said, “This is a problem that is decades in the making. It has its roots in the medicine cabinet. Someone can be prescribed pain medication and get a re-fill and then become dependent on it, start looking for it on the street, and turn to heroin.” Herring's take on this national trend is quite accurate. While his campaign focuses on Virginia's population, the number of unintentional overdose deaths from prescription pain relievers has more than quadrupled since 1999 across the country as a whole. Statistics show that as the number of overdoses increased, the number of prescriptions of opioid painkillers also increased. [caption id="attachment_1592" align="aligncenter" width="808"]The Hardest Hit Opioid Prescriptions Dispensed by U.S. Retail Pharmacies IMS Health, Vector One: National, years 1991-1996, Data Extracted 2011. IMS Health, National Prescription Audit, years 1997-2013, Data Extracted 2014.[/caption] Part of The Hardest Hit and Herring's initiative includes accountability and prosecution of prescribers; however, making prescription opioids less accessible does not deter individuals already addicted to opioids. In fact, addicts without access to prescription opiates are likely to find more readily accessible and affordable street drugs like heroin, which is becoming increasingly dangerous when mixed with synthetic opioids.

Leading the Charge in the Commonwealth

Because the opioid epidemic is so widespread, more lawmakers should follow the lead of Attorney General Mark Herring. The problem requires multi-faceted approaches to education and prevention. Taking the actions necessary could save thousands of lives.

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