Heroin deaths slowing in area

This graphic shows the number of heroin overdose deaths by locality since Jan. 1.

The rate of heroin-related deaths and overdoses in the northern Shenandoah Valley has slackened in the last part of the year, but the toll has gone well beyond all of 2013.

The last month of the year began with 29 deaths and 65 injuries attributed to heroin overdoses. The death total at one time this year appeared likely to hit 40 or more, but a slide in the pace of overdoses since Sept. 1 has provided a hopeful sign to those involved in trying to curb the epidemic.

Virginia State Police Special Agent Jay Perry, who leads the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug Task Force, said he has been encouraged by the trend of the past three months, although he is a long way from declaring victory.

“I’m optimistic that we’re making some steps in the right direction,” Perry said. “Hopefully, we can sustain it.”

Heroin’s grip on the area may have loosened a bit, but the trend over the last two years remains grim. The 29 deaths recorded so far in 2014 far exceeds the 21 who died in 2013 and the single death in 2012. The figures are spread throughout the drug task force’s jurisdiction, which includes Frederick, Clarke Warren, Shenandoah and Page counties and Winchester.

The majority of the deaths have been concentrated in and around Winchester, although there were indications earlier this year of increasing overdoses in Warren and Shenandoah counties.

Perry attributed the recent improvement to law enforcement operations that have thinned the ranks of heroin dealers in Baltimore and elsewhere who were supplying addicts in Northern Virginia. Many addicts charged with heroin-related crimes obtained the drug in Baltimore and brought it back to the area.

“We’ve made several good arrests,” Perry said. “We’ve gone up to Baltimore and arrested some of the larger dealers who have been responsible for some of the overdoses we’ve had here.”

Perry said increased community awareness of the dangers of heroin addiction has also dampened the surge in heroin sales and use.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com