RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Some states, including Virginia, are reporting a rise in heroin use as many addicts shift from more costly and harder-to-get prescription opiates to this cheaper alternative. A look at what's happening in Virginia:
Because of a sharp increase in heroin abuse over the last two years, Virginia State Police Superintendent Col. Steve Flaherty said combating the drug has become top priority for law enforcement.
State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said Virginia's highest use areas are in Richmond, Hampton Roads and small rural communities in the Shenandoah Valley, along the Virginia and West Virginia border. According to the Office of the Medical Examiner, heroin-related deaths in urban areas have been rising, as did the number of rural counties touched by the drug, since 2011.
The numbers of heroin overdoses in Virginia have increased from 101 in 2011 to 135 in 2012 and 197 in 2013. Most deceased are between the ages of 25 and 34. About 80 percent are white.
State Police are responding to the increase through educational initiatives and community forums. Flaherty said many emergency rooms and rescue squads are now equipped with Naloxone (Narcan), a drug used to counter the effects of an opiate overdose.
Summits to address heroin use in the Shenandoah Valley are led by State Police and include representatives from prevention, treatment, enforcement and prosecution fields. The next meeting will take place April 18 at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va.
Meghan Wedd McGuire, spokeswoman for the Department of Behavioral Health and Development Services, said the Legislature passed a law in 2013 to establish a pilot program to allow physicians to prescribe Naloxone to a person knowing it will be used on a third party. For example, a family member of an addict may receive a prescription.
The bill also allows nonmedical people to nasally administer Naloxone and protects them from liability. McGuire said metropolitan Richmond and the far southwestern part of the state are pilot areas.
For addicts seeking treatment, Medicaid has covered all substance abuse treatment since 2007.