Heroin deaths fell in 2015

The area closed out 2015 with 27 lives lost to overdoses from heroin and other opiate drugs, a decline from the 33 such deaths in 2014, but the death toll soared near the end of the year.

Eight deaths between Thanksgiving and Christmas raised the total among the five counties – Frederick, Shenandoah, Warren, Clarke and Page – included within the jurisdiction of the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug Task Force.

Frederick County and Winchester combined for the highest total with 12 deaths, followed by Warren County and Front Royal with a combined nine, Shenandoah County and Strasburg with a total of five and Clarke County with one.

Virginia State Police Special Agent Jay Perry, coordinator of the drug task force, said the decrease in deaths in 2015 represented a mixed result for law enforcement, social services, education and medical organizations trying to dampen the sale and use of heroin in the area.

“Twenty-seven is way too high,” Perry said. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do.”

Perry said 18 of the 27 who died were males. The youngest victim was 18 and the oldest was 49. The deaths were part of an overall total of 82 overdoses in 2015, including those that resulted in bodily injuries but not fatalities.

Perry said the well-established pattern of heroin distribution involving local people shuttling back and forth between the northern Shenandoah Valley and Baltimore continued in 2015.

“Nothing has really changed,” Perry said. “Our heroin has been predominantly coming from Baltimore, Maryland. Hopefully, we will be working together with the Maryland Attorney General’s Office and curb some of the distribution that is occurring between here and there.”

A court reserved only for drug cases is expected to open later this year in Winchester, the most ambitious attempt in the area to try to steer defendants away from incarceration and into what supporters say will be a rigorous and tightly monitored program of treatment and rehabilitation options.

Perry said he also expects law enforcement officials to continue pressing some of the “larger scale dealers” in Baltimore in an effort to diminish heroin trafficking in the northern Virginia.

Several dealers from Baltimore were prosecuted in federal court in Harrisonburg in 2015, and several more are likely to be charged this year, Perry said.

“Hopefully, the downward trend will continue,” Perry said of deaths related to opiate overdoses.

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