After years of escalating overdose cases stemming from the abuse of prescription painkillers and the pervasive increase in heroin use, law enforcement and emergency responders registered success in reducing fatalities during 2017.
Fatal heroin overdoses in Loudoun decreased 35 percent compared to last year and non-fatal heroin related overdoses decreased 10 percent, the Sheriff’s Office reported in December.
Over the past two years, county deputies and other first responders have been equipped with the overdose antidote Narcan, which can quickly reverse the deadly symptoms, and legislators at the state and federal levels have worked to make Narcan more available to the general public, as well. Deputies have administered the life-saving treatment more than a dozen times.
In May, Attorney General Mark R. Herring visited the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office to unveil a law enforcement training video with information on opiate addiction, how to recognize the signs of overdoses, and how to respond to life-threatening situations. In 2016, there were more than 1,400 fatal drug overdoses in Virginia. For the fourth consecutive year, more Virginians died from overdoses than from vehicle crashes. Loudoun reported 29 fatal opiate overdoses in 2016.
Even as first responders make gains, they’re facing increasing challenges from heroin that has been mixed by street suppliers with the powerful painkiller fentanyl, and more recently carfentanil—a synthetic opioid that is 10,000 times more powerful than morphine and is used to tranquilize large animals. The mix makes the potency of the street-purchased drug unpredictable, and often deadly.
The threat isn’t only to users. “The drugs can unintentionally be inhaled through the nose or mouth. Even trace amounts can result in severe adverse reactions putting those exposed to the drug in danger, including the general public,” Sheriff Michael Chapman said.
According to the Sheriff’s Office, lab results from non-fatal overdoses that occurred in March and July detected carfentanil. The cases are the first confirmation of the drug’s presence in Loudoun.
There also has been a push to hold drug suppliers accountable in overdose cases.
In July, Loudoun prosecutors obtained their first conviction of a supplier when Heather Nicole Timbers pleaded guilty to charges of involuntary manslaughter, distribution of heroin, and possession of heroin following the death of Dewitt Talmadge Black IV in a Leesburg hotel room. Each charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
According to evidence in the case, the 30-year-old Leesburg woman joined Black, a guitarist with the metal band Yesterday’s Saints who regularly rented hotel rooms to work on his music, at the Clarion Inn in Leesburg on Sept. 29, 2016. The two snorted heroin she had purchased from a dealer in the hotel parking lot. Police were called to the room at 8:13 the next morning. Black was dead on the hotel room floor.
Black was not a known drug user, said prosecutors following police interviews of family members, friends, acquaintances, and even Timbers. Yet he was one of 41 reported drug deaths in Loudoun during 2016—29 of those were linked to opioids, including heroin.
A similar case was brought to trial in January 2016. James Michael Webber was charged with involuntary manslaughter for supplying heroin to a friend who died from an overdose. According to evidence in that case, Webber traveled to Baltimore to purchase heroin, which he then shared with his friend Jaime Ducharme, a 2004 Broad Run High School graduate. After taking the drug, Ducharme was found dead in her bedroom by her mother. The heroin later was found to have been laced with fentanyl. A Loudoun Circuit Court jury acquitted Webber of involuntary manslaughter, but he was convicted of providing the drug. He was sentenced to 21 months in jail.