Heroin death rate falling in 2015

WINCHESTER — The rate of deaths from heroin overdoses in the area slowed during the first two-thirds of 2015, Winchester Police Chief Kevin Sanzenbacher said at a news conference on Thursday.

The death toll stands at 16, less than half of the 33 overdose deaths recorded in 2014 within the jurisdiction of the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug Task Force. The area encompasses Frederick, Warren, Clarke, Shenandoah and Page counties and Winchester.

Sanzenbacher’s figures showed the four deaths registered in Shenandoah County as the highest total among counties in the area, followed by three each in Warren and Frederick counties.

Among municipalities, three deaths have been recorded in Winchester, followed by one each in Front Royal and Strasburg.

Sanzenbacher credited several factors in the slowdown, including education efforts by the Northern Shenandoah Valley Substance Abuse Coalition, which organized the news conference to mark National Recovery Month. The event is an effort to spread awareness of public health and social service programs that offer help to those suffering from addiction and mental illnesses.

“I want to thank all those supporting our efforts,” Sanzenbacher said. “We are making progress but we have still had 16 heroin overdose deaths this year. That number is down from the previous two years, but one is still too many.”

Sanzenbacher and other members of the coalition also cited Narcan, a drug administered by emergency care providers, as a factor in saving the lives of overdose victims. The arrests and successful prosecution of heroin dealers in Baltimore who have been supplying users and dealers in the area have also been making a difference.

But Sanzenbacher called heroin “more than a law enforcement problem.”

He praised prosecutors and other law enforcement officials for understanding the need “to start educating the community and bringing the resources together” to cope with “a community health crisis.”

The coalition is planning two events within the next six weeks that focus on non-law enforcement responses to heroin addiction. The first, scheduled for 7 p.m. Sept. 22 at the Convention Center at Valley Health Hospital in Winchester, will offer information to the public about the dangers of drug abuse and identify sources of help for those trying to overcome addiction.

The second event involves the recruitment and training of recovering addicts in an effort to help others who are in the early stages of recovery. The goal is for the coalition to have a group of “peer facilitators” standing by to offer one-to-one counseling to recovering addicts when they are confronted with so-called “trigger mechanisms” that can cause relapses within an eight-minute time span.

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