Commonwealth of Virginia
Office of the Attorney General
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Contact: Emily Bolton
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HERRING REPORTS PROGRESS AND CONTINUING CRISIS AT ONE YEAR MARK OF HIS HEROIN AND PRESCRIPTION DRUG ABUSE PREVENTION PLAN
~ As overdose fatalities continue to rise, Attorney General Herring reports progress on all parts of his Five Point Plan, including prosecution of 28 cases involving more than 95 kilos of heroin, bipartisan legislative solutions, education and prevention initiatives, and more ~
RICHMOND (October 7, 2015) - As part of his continuing efforts to address a troubling rise in heroin and prescription drug overdose fatalities in the Commonwealth, Attorney General Mark R. Herring reported in on milestones in the first year of his Five Point Plan to Combat Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse. While progress has been made in every segment of the plan, according to the latest data from the Virginia Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, heroin and prescription drug fatalities are continuing to rise in the Commonwealth. In 2014, 728 Virginians lost their lives to heroin and prescription drug overdoses, up from 661 in 2013. In the last five years, fatal overdoses have increased by 57% and nearly 3,000 Virginians have lost their lives.
In the year since launching the innovative, collaborative, and comprehensive strategy, his team has prosecuted 28 state and federal cases involving more than 95 kilos of heroin, won passage of three life-saving anti-overdose bills, held professionals accountable for making prescription opioids illegally available and launched several prevention and education initiatives with more coming in the months ahead. The plan was developed after Attorney General Herring's first statewide public safety tour in which three quarters of localities expressed concern with a rising tide of heroin and prescription drug overdose fatalities.
"This heroin and prescription drug epidemic is a public health issue, a public safety and law enforcement issue, and most importantly, it's a family issue. The rising and tragic death toll adds a dose of reality and a sense of urgency to our efforts and those of our local, state and federal partners," said Attorney General Mark R. Herring. "I'm proud of the progress we've made, the infrastructure we've helped build, and the awareness we've brought to the problem, but we must remain steadfast in our efforts and remember that behind every overdose and every case of addiction there are families and communities who suffer. Meeting folks who have lost loved ones serves as my motivation every single day and I will not waiver in my commitment to fight this deadly epidemic."
"We commend the Attorney General's Office for its continuing support as we work together to educate the community on the dangers of heroin and prescription drug abuse," said Roanoke Police Chief Chris Perkins. "It's comforting to know that law enforcement agencies in the Roanoke Valley have a strong voice in Richmond advocating for a range of solutions, including training, education, and prevention, such as the recent Prescription Drug Take Back. At the last Take Back event near the end of September, citizens across the valley dropped of 3,219 pounds of prescription medication to be destroyed, ensuring those medications will never fall into the wrong hands."
"Mr. Herring's plan is a great start to this opiate epidemic," said Honesty Brackett Liller, CEO of the McShin Foundation. "Our vision is to help that person struggling with addiction as soon as possible. They need access to detox and recovery support services immediately, not wait for services. With this, I believe there will be at least a 20% decrease of overdoses and 30% decrease of criminal justice costs. To have to wait for services could be a cost of a life."
"This problem can only be addressed through a comprehensive effort and I am happy to work with all local, state and federal stakeholders to attack this growing epidemic," said Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman.
PROSECUTIONS AND PARTNERSHIPS
Through strategic partnerships with local, federal and state partners, Attorney General Herring has increased his office's prosecutions against dealers, traffickers, and others involved in large-scale drug operations. Earlier this year, his team, working alongside the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Dana Boente, successfully dismantled what is believed to be the largest heroin trafficking operation in the Hampton Roads region.
Over the last year, prosecutions and new partnerships have included:
- 28 cases against dealers and traffickers involving a combined total of approximately 95.4 kilograms of heroin with an estimated street value of more than $19 million 
- Amounts to an estimated 238,500 daily doses of heroin 
- Cases made against dealers and traffickers responsible for six overdoses where victims survived and three overdose deaths
- Eight dealers and traffickers being sentenced to a cumulative 78 years and 9 months in prison
- 16 dealers and traffickers awaiting sentencing facing a minimum of a cumulative 125 years in prison
- Creation of the OAG's first-ever regional prosecution structure specifically to tackle federal heroin and gang cases. Recent hires include John Butler, who works out of Hampton Roads prosecuting major heroin crime drivers.
- Joining the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Heroin Task Force (NEMA-HTF), a first-of-its kind task force that fosters cross-state collaboration and leverages resources to combat heroin distribution
Looking ahead: Attorney General Herring recently hired Suzanne Kerney-Quillen to serve as a prosecutor in Southwest Virginia focusing on state and federal high volume drug cases and other emerging threats. Attorney General Herring is the first attorney general to place a prosecutor in every region of the Commonwealth for the purposes of combating heroin and prescription drug abuse and emerging threats.
PREVENTION AND EDUCATION
Statistics show that most overdose deaths occur between the ages of 25-34, making education and prevention efforts critical in the fight against heroin and prescription drug overdoses.
- OAG has added a prescription drug abuse module to the Virginia Rules program. Virginia Rules is OAG's law education program to help students make good decisions, avoid breaking laws, and become responsible, active citizens within their schools and communities. In FY2015, Virginia Rules reached 44% more students than the previous fiscal year.
- For the first time ever, AG Herring has placed a community outreach coordinator in every region of the Commonwealth. Community outreach coordinators routinely work with law enforcement and non-profits on a variety of issues including the heroin and prescription drug abuse epidemic. They help facilitate drug take-backs, provide prescription drug lock boxes to older Virginians, participate in High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) meetings, and much more.
- OAG sponsored several large drug take-back events in Southwest Virginia this September andencouraged participation in drug take-backs across the Commonwealth. Additionally, OAG has updated informational materials explaining how to properly discard prescription drugs.
Looking ahead: In the coming weeks AG Herring will launch a public awareness campaign on heroin and prescription drug abuse in the Commonwealth that will feature a documentary-style video, educational materials, website, and interactive social media elements.
ILLEGAL PRESCRIPTION AVAILABILITY
Attorney General Herring and his team have sought to hold medical professionals accountable for overprescribing, stealing, or otherwise making prescription opiates available illegally. Since last September OAG has:
- Presented evidence to professional regulatory boards for 18 cases resulting in
- Six license revocations
- Seven indefinite suspensions and one year-long suspension
- One voluntary surrender for suspension
- Four stayed suspensions upon treatment
*Note: one case involved suspension of two certificates.
Looking ahead: With more evidence linking heroin abuse and prescription opioid abuse, the OAG will continue to work with professional regulatory boards to identify and take action against doctors, pharmacists, and others who make prescription drugs available illegally.
DEVELOPMENT OF LEGISLATIVE SOLUTIONS
During the 2015 session, Attorney General Herring worked with legislators from both parties to pass three lifesaving overdose fatality reduction laws, and advocated for others:
- HB1500- Safe Reporting (Carr, McClellan, O'Bannon, Rasoul, Rust): Encourages reporting of overdoses in progress by establishing an affirmative defense for minor possession or intoxication crimes if a person reports an overdose, remains on the scene, and identifies themselves as the reporter. Safe reporting provisions currently exist in 21 other states and the District of Columbia.
- HB1458- Statewide Naloxone Expansion (Carr, Hodges, O'Bannon, Rust): Naloxone is a prescription drug that counteracts the effects of a heroin or prescription opioid overdose. The law expands the current naloxone pilot project to authorize naloxone use by any law enforcement agency in the Commonwealth. It also provides immunity to law enforcement officers who administer the drug. Similar authorization currently exists in 23 states. According to the Centers for Disease Control, naloxone successfully reversed more than 10,000 overdoses between 1996 and 2010.
- SB817- Access to PMP by Probation Officers (Howell): This law allows probation officers to access Virginia's Prescription Monitoring Program to ensure their probationers are not getting opioid prescriptions they are not authorized to have.
- Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2015 (CARA): On the national level, AG Herring has urged Congress to pass CARA to provide the Commonwealth with additional tools to more effectively confront the growing challenge of heroin and opioid abuse and addiction. The public health bill focuses on prevention, education, and treatment.
Looking ahead: Next legislative session, Attorney General Herring will again support legislation to reduce overdose fatalities, including legislation to hold dealers accountable when their drugs lead to a death.
EXECUTIVE SUMMIT ON HEROIN AND PRESCRIPTION DRUG ABUSE
The summit on heroin and prescription drug abuse took place on October 4, 2014 in Charlottesville. The summit featured in-depth dialogue on law enforcement and public health solutions, and included a comprehensive group of stakeholders including:
- Nearly 200 law enforcement, local government leaders, state officials and community leaders attended
- Held conversations that led to the creation of partnerships and provided critical input that informed legislative solutions and other tactics
Looking ahead: Attorney General Herring and his staff will continue to work with local, state, and federal partners to foster collaboration and maintain ongoing dialogue on these issues.
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1- Approximate street value calculated by Washington/Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) on August 20, 2015.
2- Figure calculated using daily dose of 400mg; NHTSA cited average daily dose to be between 300-500 mg. Citation: U.S. Department of Transportation. National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Drugs and Human Performance Fact Sheets. By Fiona J. Couper and Barry K.