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Virginia grappling with rise of heroin, opioid deaths

NORFOLK (AP) Virginia officials are wrestling with how to curb the continued rise of deaths caused by heroin and prescription opioid overdoses, which they say could top 1,000 next year.

Virginia is on pace to have more than 850 such deaths this year, which be up 9 percent from last year, The Virginian Pilot reports. And officials are bracing for even more deaths in 2016.

“I think the number is going to far exceed a thousand deaths for 2016,” said Rosie Hobron, who tracks the deaths for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner’s forensic epidemiologist. “They are not plateauing or decreasing.”

Virginia is not alone. There were 10,574 heroin overdose deaths nationwide in 2014, up 22 percent from the year before.

Jennifer Lee, deputy secretary of health and human resources, says it will take time to see some the impacts of the work that Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s administration is doing to curb drug overdose deaths. Lee is also a member of the Governor’s Task Force on Prescription Drug and Heroin Abuse.

That group is recommending that the state take several steps to address the issue, including boosting Medicaid reimbursement for substance abuse treatment and requiring doctors to be trained in how to prescribe opioids.

Attorney General Mark Herring says he has been working with state and federal prosecutors to try opioid distribution cases in federal court when possible. But he and other officials stress that the state must fight the problem from all sides, including law enforcement and treatment.

“It’s going to take a community-based approach,” Herring said. “It’s important to stress, we are not going to get this turned around without robust preventative education and treatment components. It’s going to take the state, local and federal levels doing everything they can to address this,” he said.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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