WASHINGTON — Shortly after taking office more than three years ago, Virginia’s top cop toured the state and was blown away to learn how bad the opioid epidemic was. Since then, he says he’s made combating the crisis a top priority.
“The numbers are so big they almost don’t seem real,” Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said during a roundtable discussion on the crisis which was held Wednesday morning at police headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia.
Last year alone, he said, about 1,100 Virginians died from overdoses — including 189 in Northern Virginia, which has not been spared from the devastating impact of the epidemic.
They left behind families that are now struggling with their loss, he said. “That is too many empty bedrooms upstairs, too many empty chairs,” he said. “It’s impacting so many families in Virginia.”
The stop in Alexandria was part of Herring’s fourth annual statewide public safety tour that this year is mainly focusing on the heroin and opioid crisis.
Those taking part in the roundtable discussion included the city’s mayor, members of law enforcement, members from the Alexandria fire department as well as other community partners, some of whom are part of the Alexandria opioid work group. The work group meets regularly to discuss the impact of the crisis on the community and how to reduce its impact.
Herring says he was there to find out what help Alexandria needs to combat the crisis and also to hear about their programs or efforts that have been successful so he could share that information with other communities.
On Monday, Herring was in Loudoun County where he unveiled a new law enforcement training video, called “When Seconds Count,” aimed at helping officers save lives when responding to overdoses.
Officials learned a long time ago they wouldn’t be able to arrest their way out of this crisis, Herring said.
He said the state has tried attacking the problem with an all-hands-on-deck approach which includes stepped-up enforcement, education, prevention, expanded treatment and legislation that has expanded the availability of naloxone which is an opioid overdose-reversal drug.
“We need to pull all facets together in the community. Everyone has a role to play,” he said.
Herring’s office recently launched a website, HardestHitVA.com, that he says is a one-stop shop for education and for resources across Virginia.