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ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING AND LEGISLATORS INTRODUCE BILLS TO REDUCE HEROIN AND PRESCRIPTION DRUG FATALITIES
~ Bipartisan package to encourage overdose reporting and hold dealers accountable has support of major law enforcement organizations ~
RICHMOND (January 20, 2015)--In response to a troubling statewide spike in heroin and prescription drug overdose fatalities, Attorney General Mark R. Herring and a bipartisan group of Virginia legislators have introduced important legislation to save lives and hold drug dealers accountable. According to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, heroin overdose fatalities in Virginia have more than doubled from 100 deaths in 2011 to 213 deaths in 2013, while an additional 468 Virginians died from prescription drug overdose in 2013. Between 2011 and 2013, every region of the state experienced an increase in heroin fatalities, including a 164% increase in Northern Virginia, a 94% increase in Hampton Roads, and a 50% increase in the Richmond metro area.
"Too many Virginians are losing loved ones to heroin and prescription drug overdose. I don't want one more parent to bury a child, or one more child to lose a parent, because of these drugs," said Attorney General Herring. "The goal of these bills is to save lives. This is a complicated problem that will require education, prevention, treatment, and enforcement at the local, state, and federal level. We've worked hard with law enforcement, prosecutors, and advocates over the last few months to make sure these bills will be effective and useful. This is just one step, but we think it's an important one in turning the tide against heroin and prescription drug fatalities."
In September, Attorney General Herring announced a 5-part plan to address heroin and prescription drug fatalities. It included a number of legislative proposals that have been refined through extensive outreach and work with legislators, prosecutors, and law enforcement. The legislation has been endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, the Virginia Sheriffs' Association, the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, and the Virginia Association of Commonwealth's Attorneys.
The bills are:
Safe Reporting (Good Samaritan provision)--Carr/O'Bannon/Rust (HB1500) This bill would encourage reporting of overdoses in progress by establishing an affirmative defense for minor possession or intoxication crimes if a person reports an overdose, remains on the scene, and identifies themselves as the reporter. Safe reporting provisions currently exist in 21 other states and the District of Columbia.
Drug-induced Homicide--Miller (HB1638) This bill would give prosecutors a tool to hold drug dealers accountable when their drugs lead to an overdose death. Currently these cases are almost always taken to the federal level--including by cross-designated prosecutors from the Office of Attorney General--because Virginia law makes convictions very difficult.
Statewide Naloxone Expansion--Carr/O'Bannon (HB1458) Naloxone is a prescription drug that counteracts the effects of a heroin or prescription opioid overdose. This bill would expand the current naloxone pilot project to authorize naloxone use by any law enforcement agency in the Commonwealth. It would also provide immunity to law enforcement who administer the drug. Similar authorization currently exists in 23 states. According to the Centers for Disease Control, naloxone successfully reversed more than 10,000 overdoses between 1996 and 2010.
Prescription Monitoring Program-- Howell (SB817) This bill will allow probation officers to access Virginia's Prescription Monitoring Program to ensure their probationers are not getting opioid prescriptions they are not authorized to have.
Bill sponsors and law enforcement officials from across the state offered the following statements on the scope of the heroin and prescription drug crisis in Virginia and the package of legislation to help address it:
Delegate Thomas Davis Rust (Co-Sponsor of HB1500, Safe Reporting)
"We are seeing an epidemic of prescription drug and heroin fatalities across the state, and in particular in Northern Virginia. If we can help encourage the reporting of overdoses in progress, we can get that person help, save a life, and set them on a path towards recovery."
Delegate Betsy Carr (Co-Sponsor of HB1500, Safe Reporting and HB1548 Naloxone)
"The prescription drug and heroin overdose rates throughout our Commonwealth are alarming. It is my hope that my bill, HB1500, when passed will encourage individuals or their loved ones experiencing an overdose to seek timely medical attention. We want to increase calls to 911 and decrease deaths from overdoses."
Delegate Jackson Miller (Sponsor of HB1638, Drug Induced Homicide)
"This amendment to the state's felony homicide statute will help law enforcement and prosecutors hold dealers accountable when their drugs lead to the death of a Virginian. There is still much work to be done to combat heroin and prescription drug abuse, but by holding dealers accountable for the full consequences of their actions, we can help slow the flood of cheap, dangerous drugs on our streets."
Richmond Chief of Police Ray Tarasovic and Commonwealth's Attorney Mike Herring
"The enforcement work group is an unprecedented collaboration of front -line stakeholders in the fight against heroin and prescription drug abuse. Drawing from the various perspectives of emergency response, criminal justice, medicine, treatment and advocacy, the work group made several important recommendations on ways to enhance our efforts to avoid the tragedy of drug overdose. The recommendations included: (1) immunity for first responders who administer Nalaxone; (2) enhanced penalties for persons who sell schedule 1 or 2 drugs that result in the death of the user; and (3) increased law enforcement access to the prescription drug registry. The Attorney General's legislative proposals for preventive, investigative and prosecutorial enhancements reflect the work group's consensus that a holistic, coordinated effort will best save lives."
Virginia Beach Chief of Police Jim Cervera
"It is encouraging to see lawmakers really put their heads together and work on a solution to fight the heroin epidemic that has shaken our Commonwealth. We all know by now that the heroin death rate has more than doubled in recent years - and this is just not an area where law enforcement can deal with the problem alone. To beat the heroin epidemic, educators, behavioral health experts, police, parents, communities and lawmakers must work together. So on behalf of the Va. Beach Police Department, we are encouraged with this package of legislation that provides a multi faceted approach to the problem. This is what being smart on crime is all about."
Roanoke Chief of Police Chris Perkins
"Heroin not only damages the lives of the people using the drug, but heroin damages the lives of the users family, friends, co-workers and everyone in our community. The Commonwealth of Virginia must take a balanced approach in dealing with threat posed by drug abuse. We must provide sufficient legal protections for those seeking medical treatment for overdose and dependency, while criminalizing the negligent behavior of those who would act recklessly in supplying this drug. Heroin has re-emerged and it is now marketed in such a way that its popularity has started to surpassed many of the most commonly used drugs. We must stop it now before impacts generations of Virginians."
Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman
"Heroin overdoses are taking way too many lives throughout Virginia. We need to aggressively target this problem through enforcement, prevention and education. A proactive and comprehensive approach that combines law enforcement with community resources will help get this problem under control."
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