RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Deaths from heroin and opioid use outnumbered highway fatalities in Virginia for the first time last year, officials said.
Records show that 728 Virginians died from drug overdoses in 2014, while 700 people died on the state's roads.
The increase in drug-related deaths comes despite heightened efforts to attack heroin use in the state, a focus that was announced a year ago by Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring.
"The heroin and prescription drug epidemic is a public health issue, a public safety and law enforcement issue and, most importantly, it's a family issue," Herring said in a news release.
Media outlets report that highway fatalities have been dropping as drug deaths increase. The highway death toll in 2013 was 741 while there were 661 drug-related deaths. And it 2009, there were 750 traffic fatalities and 504 deaths from heroin and opioids.
Herring's office outlined the efforts made to help recovering addicts and decriminalize behaviors that can save lives. For instance, new laws were passed that provide immunity to law enforcement officers who administer Naloxone to counteract drug overdoses.
Herring also said during the past year, there have been 28 prosecutions against dealers and traffickers. Those cases recovered 95.4 kilograms of heroin valued at over $19 million. In addition, during the past year, authorities have also dismantled what is thought to have been the largest heroin-trafficking operation in Hampton Roads.
The state also launched initiatives to familiarize students with the consequences of drug use. Officials are also cracking down on prescription scams.
Herring said last week that he hopes the new statistics help officials realize how urgently solutions are needed to solve the heroin epidemic.