The opiate epidemic is affecting millions of people across the United States. Due to the amazing amount of destruction that opiate abuse is causing, many state officials are trying anything and everything they can to curb the record number of users and overdoses. Most state officials are writing in new laws and expanding their education programs hoping to cut down on the abuse.
In the state of Virginia, Attorney General Mark Herring is taking a different approach to the opiate epidemic. In his new plan that was released this past week, he is aiming his sights on the growing number of heroin and prescription drug fatalities. Herring spoke in Roanoke at the annual conference of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police where he spoke briefly about his plan. He said that a combination of prosecuting illegal drug users as well as medical professionals who write prescriptions illegally will help decrease the number of deaths. In laymen's terms, he believes that Virginia can arrest their way out of the opiate epidemic.
According to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Virginia has seen a statewide increase in heroin overdose deaths. An addict will become addicted to prescription painkillers usually in a very short amount of time. It starts off innocently enough and before they even realize it, they get sick when they run out of opiates. The sickness is known as "withdrawals" and for a good majority of new users, they have no idea what they are experiencing. The overwhelmingly terrible feelings associated with withdrawals is too much to bare for most addicts and instead of getting clean right then and there, they decide to score more opiates and their addiction increases. Before too long, opiates have completely consumed every aspect of their life. When they can no longer afford their habit to prescription painkillers, they graduate to the cheaper and more dangerous opiate: heroin. Heroin's potency can be drastically different from bag to bag and it is known that once you start abusing heroin, you are risking your life every time you use.
Herring said he plans to work with law enforcement and attorneys to craft legislation that would give legal immunity to people who call for medical help for drug users who overdose. Often called a “Good Samaritan” law, this type of provision has been enacted in several other states, and Herring said it has been proven as an effective means of preventing deaths.
Herring also acknowledged that federal laws are more effective at prosecuting dealers whose drugs lead to fatalities, and he wants to push more heroin and prescription drug-related crimes into federal court. He also expressed an interest in expanding the approved use of Naloxone, a prescription drug that can reverse the effects of an opiate overdose almost instantly. The General Assembly previously approved the use of Naloxone in parts of Southwest Virginia, as well as Richmond and Chesterfield, as a pilot project launched in 2013.
If Mark Herring and other top officials in Virginia believe that they will curb the opiate epidemic by arresting their way out of the problem, they are gravely mistaken. Although I applaud their efforts with the other programs they want to start like the Narcan program, simply arresting individuals who are addicted to opiates will have no impact on the problem. You will simply witness the “revolving door” concept where individuals will be in and out of jail for drug offenses. Education needs to be the top priority for these officials and if they want to make an impact while using the legal system, drug court programs is where they need to focus their attention. Sending drug offenders to rehabilitation programs is far more effective than throwing them in jail. I hope these top officials rethink their plans.