WASHINGTON - Law enforcement is banding together to combat heroin and opioid abuse in our area. The most recent takedown happened in Prince William County where dozens of warrants were issued for people wanted for using or distributing the drugs.
Of the 43 warrants issued, 31 people were arrested. Many of them have happened in the past 24 hours in Prince William County.
But Northern Virginia is not the only area struggling to curb opioid abuse, overdose and death. Karl Colder, special agent in charge at the Drug Enforcement Administration, said the opioid epidemic is widespread and he offered insight on how to curb addiction.
“In 2015, we had 52,000 Americans die from drug overdose – 33,000 of those were due to prescription opioids,” he said. “So you see the problem and we have to educate our pharmacists and doctors who are here to treat pain. They are trained to treat pain. That is all they do and now we have to break them from that mode, that cycle.”
Colder said that includes hosting prescription drug awareness conferences for the medical community and going into medical schools to train future doctors about the dangers on overprescribing.
He said just this month, the DEA seized nearly 90 pounds of heroin in Maryland. More than 60 pounds was pure fentanyl. which can be lethal.
The DEA is not alone in its fight to raise awareness and educate the community and opioid abuse. Since 2013 in Northern Virginia, the Narcotics Task Force, which includes law enforcement agencies across the D.C. region, has conducted five large-scale operations all aimed at cracking down on opioid offenders. It has resulted in more than 200 arrests.
But the DEA said their focus is on education.
“We have now come to the realization that we can't arrest our way out of this problem, so we now have to educate, and one of the ways that DEA is educating the public is through our Operation Prevention program, which is a toolkit, stem-based program for parents, teachers, students and school districts,” said Colder.
Operation Prevention includes taking students on virtual field trips where DEA agents provide unfiltered facts on drugs and addiction. It also includes a video challenge encouraging students to send a message to their peers about the dangers of prescription opioid misuse by creating a 30 to 60-second public service announcement with a chance to win up to $10,000 in scholarships.