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Loudoun law enforcement fighting spike in heroin abuse

State Attorney General Mark Herring (center) meets with Loudoun law enforcement officials Friday at Leesburg Town Hall. The meeting was one of 22 regional meetings Herring had scheduled with law enforcement throughout the state to discuss public safety challenges and ways of keeping communities safe. Times-Mirror Staff Photo/Crystal Owens
Leesburg and Loudoun law enforcement are fighting an increase in heroin abuse among its citizens, officials on Friday told state Attorney General Mark Herring at a joint meeting in downtown Leesburg.

The problem, law enforcement said, has gradually gotten worse over the last two years.

“I would say it's a noticeable, emerging increase … you see it coming in from Baltimore, you see connections with Winchester,” said Loudoun Commonwealth's Attorney Jim Plowman.

Leesburg Police Chief Joesph Price and Loudoun County Lt. Col. Robert Buckman Jr. echoed Plowman, saying their agencies are battling an increase in overdoses.

Leesburg had two heroin overdose deaths last year, according to Price.

A number of cases, he said, were overdoses from heroin mixed with fentanyl, an opioid painkiller that's reported to be 80 times stronger than heroin.

Deputies suspect there have been eight overdoses in Loudoun since Jan. 1 due to heroin, Buckman said, but they won't know for sure until toxicology reports are returned. The medical examiner's office typically takes six to eight weeks to produce a toxicology report.

Loudoun County deputies last year investigated 18 heroin cases, according to Buckman; six were fatal overdoses.

One death, Buckman said, was due to a mixture of fentanyl and morphine.

Heroin laced with fentanyl was rumored to have killed Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman in February. It was later confirmed that heroin found in his New York City apartment tested negative for the mixture.

Herring said after the meeting he's been following reports of the problem since taking office in January.

There have been significant increases of overdoses and crimes relating to the drug not only in Northern Virginia, but Winchester, Culpeper, Portsmouth and Virginia Beach, he said.

“ … It's one that we need to focus some additional attention on,” Herring said.

The state attorney general said he would investigate how outreach programs can help law enforcement, beating the problem off before it starts through education and rehabilitation.

“A heroin [addiction] is a long, long process and a 30-day program is not going to do it,” Herring said. “... Once the problem starts spreading like this, it's not going to be something that we can just put out very quickly.”

Emergency room doctors at Inova are having difficulties treating heroin overdose patients, according to Leesburg Mayor Kristen Umstattd, who said after the meeting she had spoken with hospital officials about the matter. Doctors, the mayor said, are having trouble determining what drugs patients have coupled with heroin in their systems when they overdose.

They're fearful, she said, of giving patients medications that may counteract with the chemicals already in their bodies.

This is a developing story. See the March 26 edition of the Loudoun Times-Mirror for more information.


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