CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- From county roads in the western portion of the county to neighborhood streets in Midlothian, normal scenes throughout Chesterfield County share a grim characteristic: someone died from a drug overdose nearby since last Thursday.
Chesterfield Police said their officers responded to six overdose deaths within 72 hours from Thursday into Saturday and want to warn the community that despite the COVID-19 pandemic getting so much attention, the epidemic of drug addiction is still very real and present.
“When you have one or two deaths here or there, the public doesn’t think about it. But when you have multiple deaths in a short period of time, people see it and realize that may be somebody they know,” said Lt. Timothy Kehoe with the Chesterfield PD’s Narcotics Unit. “We want people to understand that it effects everybody.”
The rash of overdose deaths in such a short stretch of time marks the highest total in several years, according to Kehoe.
Overall, the number of overdose calls in Chesterfield is up approximately 20% compared to 2019, he said.
“It’s hard to say whether it’s solely related to the COVID pandemic, but we’ve definitely seen any uptick,” Kehoe said. “People over the last year have been isolated. They can’t do what they normally would, so does it make people desperate? Does it put them in dire straits? Are they somewhere where they wouldn’t have been a year ago or two years ago?”
Kehoe said in the past year or two, his team has seen a shift in the types of drugs that lead to overdoses.
“It’s not just heroin or fentanyl in their system. It’s heroin, fentanyl, it’s cocaine, methamphetamine. So, it’s all kinds of narcotics that are in their system.” he said.
The Virginia General Assembly is advancing a bill that would “enhance” the safe reporting law in Virginia, which shields someone experiencing an overdose or the person who calls for help from prosecution and arrest for things like drug possession.
Del. Betsy Carr (D-Richmond) is backing a HB 1821, which would expand those protections to anyone around helping get medical attention for someone experiencing an overdose.
“We’re begining to realize that addiction is a disease, it’s not a crime,” Carr said. “It encourages people to get help when they need it, rather than be afraid of having to go to prison or being punished.”
The bill passed the full House of Delegates Monday with bipartisan support.
Kehoe said their department policy already expands the safe reporting laws in Virginia, and he encouraged anyone with a family member or friend to reach out for help without hesitation.
“If you’re calling to either get aid for yourself or someone else who’s overdosing, we’re not going to arrest you,” Kehoe said. “If you think that you’re alone, I can pretty much guarantee that you’re not.”
The Chesterfield County Opioid Outreach Coordinator is completely independent of the police and anyone who needs help navigating addiction can call (804) 717-6169. The office can help families and individuals obtain naloxone or Narcan, medication that helps halt the deadly effects of an opioid overdose.
Here are the signs of an overdose, according to officials:
• Person is not responsive
• Fingertips or lips turn blue or grey
• Breathing is slow, shallow or has stopped
• Person is gurgling or making snoring noises
Call 9-1-1 immediately if you think someone is experiencing an overdose.