Northern Va. heroin task force to focus on treatment

LEESBURG, Va. — A new task force to fight the growing heroin epidemic in Northern Virginia will investigate ways to prevent and treat addiction.

The regional initiative called the Heroin Operations Team pools from federal, state and local resources — including mental health experts and local school systems.

Congresswoman Barbara Comstock, R-McLean, reached out to Loudoun County to develop the team to curb heroin abuse.

“This is a deadly poison,” Comstock says. “It’s really a public education effort to bring attention to this and to be in constant communication with people who are engaged in battling the heroin problem … We’re going to crack down on all fronts.”

Comstock added that the team will look at ways to expand access to treatment centers and the availability of naloxone, a drug that counteracts a heroin overdose.

Nationwide, fatal overdoses have nearly tripled since 2010, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Loudoun County, heroin deaths are down 50 percent so far this year. Overdoses in general are down about 25 percent. In 2013, the county reported six deaths from heroin overdoses and 11 last year.

Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman says that’s proof that partnerships, like the task force are working.

“It’s about sharing information and intelligence and get community involvement,” he says. “The key is stopping it. In law enforcement, we tend to always want to just arrest our way out of problems, but that’s not always the 100 percent solution. That’s part of it. But there’s also other parts like education and treatment. It doesn’t do much good to lock up a user unless we set up some subsequent treatment to get them off of it.”

Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Karl Colder says heroin in Northern Virginia is a big problem.

“We will provide support, resources and help connect the dots with the sources that are responsible for these overdoses,” Colder says.

The task force will hold a public forum in May and also plans to develop a toll-free hotline where residents and users can seek help.

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