Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman gathered with federal and state drug enforcement leaders in Leesburg on Saturday to raise awareness of the opioid abuse epidemic locally and across the county.
The press conference, featuring acting DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg, coincided with National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, when residents were encouraged to drop off unused and expired medications at police offices.
During the weekend, more than 1,300 pounds of prescription medication was collected by the Sheriff’s Office, and police departments in Middleburg and Purcellville.
The event took place at DEA Museum exhibit that depicts the impacts of drug abuse. Also speaking were U.S. Attorney Dana Boente; Virginia Deputy Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Victoria Cochran; and Nick Yacoub, of the Substance Abuse Addiction and Recovery Alliance.
Rosenberg said the United States currently consumes 99 percent of the world’s hydrocodone and about 80 percent of the world’s oxycodone. “We will lose 47,000 people this year to a drug overdose. That is a stunning number.”
Chapman said home medicine cabinets are a primary source of opiates for area teens, but others are looking there as well. He cited a case of a pet sitter who took medications from a client’s home and drugs being stolen by visitors during real estate open houses. Chapman also attributed many thefts from homes and businesses to drug addicts seeking to pawn items for money to feed their habit.
During the first four months of 2016, the Sheriff’s Office has been called to 10 overdose cases, including one fatality. During all of 2015, deputies worked 11 overdoses, two of which were fatal.
In Loudoun, four out of five heroin users became addicted to opiates by first using prescription drugs. They then turn to heroin, which is cheaper and easier to get.
“It’s happening everywhere. It’s happening in all ages,” Chapman said. “It doesn’t matter what your income is, it doesn’t matter where you live in the county. This is affecting everybody. And awareness is the key. Making sure everybody knows it out there. And stay away from it because once you try it, you’re done. You’re going to be addicted to it.”
“We know we cannot arrest our way out of this problem,” Cochran said. “We must fight back. We must fight back together.”
At the state level, the Governor’s Task Force on Prescription Drug and Heroin Abuse has focused on building a better database to track opioid prescriptions and on legislation to allow law enforcement officers to carry and administer the overdose antidote naloxone, for which all Loudoun deputies are being trained.
Yacoub, a recovering alcoholic and addict who works to help others, said it was important for families and the community to talk about struggles with drug addiction.
“This disease dies when exposed to the light of day,” he said.