Strasburg police show heroin documentary


STRASBURG – Capt. Wayne Sager of the town Police Department was at a screening of a documentary on heroin Wednesday when a call came over the police scanner. There was an unconscious woman in Shenandoah County.

Hearing only the discussion on the scanner, Sager couldn’t be certain about what caused the woman to become unconscious. But he had an idea.

It could have been another overdose.

“That’s not uncommon,” Sager said. “You get a call for service: unconscious person. It could be at the gas pump.”

Sometimes, it turns out that the person has a heart attack.

But with more and more people dying of drug overdoses, police officers have been approaching calls about unconscious people or people with signs of cardiac arrest through the lens of the opioid epidemic.

“You look at somebody passed out in their car and us as law enforcement now, we’re thinking that this is potentially an overdose,” Sager said. “The culture has created this, you know?”

At already record-high numbers, drug overdose deaths have only continued to climb in the region and the country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 64,000 people died of an overdose last year in the United States, an increase from less than 53,000 the previous year.

In the Shenandoah Valley Region, more people have died in 2017 than died in any full year since at least 2011, according to data from the Northern Shenandoah Valley Substance Abuse Coalition. And there’s still more than two months remaining the year.

It’s because of this climate that Sager wanted to have the Strasburg Police Department host the documentary screening at the Strasburg Town Hall in the first place. Working with the Family Youth Initiative, the Northwestern Community Services Board and other local organizations, Sager said he wanted to inform community members about the toll the opioid epidemic has had in the region.

“It’s not to scare people, it’s just to create awareness-like, hey, this is what’s going on here,” Sager said.

The event took place in the middle of Red Ribbon Week, a week devoted to awareness about drug use that started on Monday. Sager said that the Strasburg Police Department started work on hosting the event just over two weeks ago.

“It came up at a coalition meeting (of the Family Youth Initiative), and we wanted to get it out during this Red Ribbon Week,” Sager said.

As part of the event, Sager invited Lt. Dawn Mantz of Shenandoah County Fire and Rescue to speak about the epidemic in the county. Sager and Mantz answered questions from citizens in the audience.

The main attraction of the evening was a screening of “Heroin(e),” a short documentary about the heroin epidemic in Huntington, West Virginia.

The documentary showed a fire chief speaking about returning to the same home over and over again.

The situation, one state away, is not unusual in Shenandoah County, Mantz said.

“I’ve run the same person multiple times,” she said.