Heroin in the valley: Area overdose deaths are down

The area has a good chance of seeing a drop in the number of heroin-related deaths in 2015, the coordinator of the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug Task Force said Monday.

The number of overdose deaths so far this year stands at 21, a number Virginia State Police Special Agent Jay Perry estimated to be about six or seven fewer than last year at the same time. A total of 32 people died of overdoses from heroin or other opiate drugs in 2015.

“It’s encouraging to see the numbers down,” Perry said. “It looks like we’re going to do a little better this year and hopefully next year, we’ll make more headway as well.”

Perry attributed the more widespread use of Narcan, a drug that revives those who have suffered what would otherwise be fatal overdoses, as one of the main reasons for the drop in deaths.

“Hopefully, the availability of Narcan and just education, making people more aware of what’s going on, is definitely a positive,” Perry said.

The nine deaths in Frederick County so far this year are the highest recorded in the jurisdiction of the drug task force, which also includes Clarke, Warren, Page and Shenandoah counties. Shenandoah County has had six deaths, Warren County five, and Clarke County one.

Perry said the formation of the Winchester-based Northern Shenandoah Valley Substance Abuse Coalition in 2014 has helped educate the public about the spreading danger of heroin. The coalition includes law enforcement, health care, substance abuse treatment and youth advocacy agencies involved in finding effective responses to the heroin epidemic.

“We’ve really been working together as a community in education and enforcement efforts,” Perry said.

Perry said law enforcement has also helped stem the tide of overdoses, at least temporarily, by arresting and prosecuting heroin dealers from Baltimore who supply many of addicts and dealers in and around Winchester.

A Stephens City woman was sentenced last week in U.S. District Court in Harrisonburg to nine years in prison for her role in a network of heroin buyers and sellers. One overdose death was attributed to her.

The woman, Brandy Dawn Kelly, bought heroin from another Stephens City resident who traveled to Baltimore to buy heroin from a man identified in court documents as Christopher Giles.

Giles pleaded guilty in June to one count of conspiring to distribute heroin. Court documents state that he sold heroin that resulted in six overdoses, two of them fatal, in the Winchester area. Giles is scheduled to be sentenced next year.

Perry said the effects of arresting a major dealer make a difference, but the benefits are temporary.

“When we get one of the dealers out of Baltimore, our overdose deaths and injuries will go down for a few weeks before they can source another dealer,” Perry said. But there’s always somebody who can fill his shoes in Baltimore.”

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