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Heroin: Recognizing the Signs, Seeking Help Archived Discussion Room

Fairfax County, Virginia

Heroin: Recognizing the Signs, Seeking Help

Join Captain Paul Cleveland from the Fairfax County Police Department's Office of Organized Crime & Narcotics and Peggy Cook, director of Residential Treatment Services for the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board on Monday, Nov. 24 at 3 p.m. to discuss the dangers and prevalence of heroin and opiate use and addiction facing our community. The number of overdoses has risen dramatically over the past three years; no one is immune. Learn more about this “national threat” we are facing here in Fairfax County, as well as how to recognize drug use, overdoses, the risks and where to find help and resources.

Peggy Cook : Good Afternoon. My name is Peggy Cook and  I am here from the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board.  We are here today to discuss problems with heroin and other opiates here in Fairfax County.

Comm of Solutions Heather : Are there Good Samaritan laws for reporting overdoses? Is there a public awareness campaign to promote anonymous reporting of overdoses? Do FCPD carry opiate antidote to administer in the field?

Paul Cleveland : Yes, the state of Virginia is looking at best practices across the nation to see how this can be incorporated within the Commonwealth.  As of now we have not completely decided how all of that is going to work.  The Attorney General's Office is going to review all of this and make decisions based on best practice.
FCPD does not currently carry and opiate overdose medication.  The Fire Department handles this. 

Diane Eckert : What does the data look like for the past two years for youth 18 and under? Do you have data broken out for young adults 18-24 years old to show past two years?

Peggy Cook : At the present time, we do not have our data broken down youth vs. adult. However, from 2009 to 2014, the Community Services Board has seen a 34% increase in individuals reporting any opiate use.  We have seen an increase in individuals ages 18-24 reporting use of opiates.  Youth under age 18 may not be entering treatment services until they are adults.  When they do present, their addiction is much more severe than we have seen in years past.

UPC - Diane Eckert : The Fire Dept currently carries naxolone for immediate response for overdoses. Is there any thought for police officers to carry this drug on them as well?

Paul Cleveland : The Chief of Police has looked at this and is conducting research as to best practices nationwide.  This is being discussed with the County Attorney for liability issues.  The Fire Department currently has this medication and their response time to these incidents is the same as ours.  The thought is leave the medication administering to the professionals that do it regularly.

UPC - Diane Eckert : Do you have a list of community and regional resources for detox, assessment, and treatment that you can share with us for distribution at our PROTECT programs? Are you seeing a link with prescription medicine abuse of opioids leading to heroin use by young adults?

Peggy Cook : One of the best ways to find treatment services is by using the Federal Website by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.  Their website lists both public and private treatment providers and you can search by zip code.  Their website is  Fairfax County Residents can call the Fairfax Detoxification Center at 703-502-7000

Community of Solutions Heather : Is there some reason why FCPD does not carry the overdose medication?

Paul Cleveland : The reason the Police Department does not carry this medication is do to the fact the Fire Department carries it.  The Fire Department response time to these situations is similar to the police.  We leave the medical professionals to administer medication.    

Jody : I have not used heroin for almost 7 years. However, how long does it take to get through the withdraw symptoms of suboxone/2mg/day?

Peggy Cook : It does vary from person to person.  Most people report that withdrawal from 2 mg is not severe, but , of course, that also varies.

Richard : What is being done to combat heroin in the high schools? Are resource officers able to identify it? Have budget cuts hurt this effort? Thanks

Paul Cleveland : The Fairfax County Police continues to partner with the Fairfax County Public Schools.  We continue to educate parents and students with drug identification and patterns of behavior to identify problems and or addiction.  Every officer that goes through the Police Academy is trained to identify various narcotics to include heroin.  The SRO's also have a one week training prior to the start of every school year that includes the Organized Crime and Narcotics Division conducting training on trends in the schools.  The school system security partners with FCPD for enforcement efforts when needed in the schools and also education for students and parents.  Lack of budget certainly hurts any effort but both the schools and the police continue to do the education and enforcement.   

KM : I lost my nephew to a heroine overdose over the summer. Where can parents/aunts/uncles, etc, find resources to help us through this and help other parents (adults) who still have their children but their time may be ticking? I can't stop thinking -- what should we have done? We tried, but clearly not hard enough.

Peggy Cook : I am so sorry to hear about your nephew. We see this much too often.   Addiction is like any other health problem.  Unfortunately, there are fatalities.  We encourage family members to do their best to connect the individual to services.  But ultimately, there will be cases  where, even with treatment, the outcome is not good.  In behavioral health, the individual's motivation to address the problem is also part of the equation.  Family members  often blame themselves.  However, they have often done everything they know how to do.  The best thing to do now is help spread the work and continue education and prevention efforts.  Clearly you are doing this by participating in this event

Anonymous User : I think there was a typo in the SAMHSA website address - can you doublecheck it and fix that please?

Peggy Cook : Sorry about that.  I made a typo.  The correct address is

James : Are there any patterns to the increase, i.e. socioeconomic, geographic, age, ethnicity...anything?

Paul Cleveland : In today's world heroin has effected all socioeconomic classes.  There is no one class this effects more than the other.  The proximity that Fairfax County has to source cities like Washington D.C. Baltimore, Richmond makes it difficult to deal with from a geographic standpoint.  The age of the user is predominately in the early twenties and thirties.  Ethnicity, for our overdose cases we are seeing is predominately white male.  However, this varies across the state. 

Ms. Yasin : Which areas appear to be targets for drug dealers? I have a son at FCHS that I am concerned about and want to protect from any known dangers in the community (i.e. gangs dealing drugs at/near schools Thanks.

Paul Cleveland : Drug dealers target users from all over the County.  The best way to protect you son is to educate him on the dangers of drug use.  Continue to be open in conversations about the effects of drugs and if you have the difficult conversations you will educate and protect your son from making any bad choices. 

A concerned parent : How would I know that my child or her friends are using opiates?

Peggy Cook : There are physical and behavioral signs.  Physically, look for small pupils, lack of responsiveness, (falling asleep when they shouldn't be) , marks on their arms, sometimes a skin abrasion like they rubbed themselves too much (heroin makes you itchy) .  Behaviorally, look for different friends, lower grades, being fired from a job, no money, stealing or "borrowing" money..  You may also notice  missing shoe laces, needles etc. A really good website for info in from the state of New York

chris : What is the relation between prescription drugs in this area and heroine increase?

Peggy Cook : We are seeing older adolescents trying pills.  Then, by the time they present for treatment, they are adults often severely addicted to heroin.  We still see a gateway from other drugs (marijuana/alcohol) but they are progressing much faster than we saw in the past to opiates medications and then to heroin.

CoS Heather : What should parents do first if they suspect their child might be using?

Paul Cleveland : Please address this immediately.  Many issues we find are due to denial.  The longer it takes to get help the longer the problem exists and often times the worse it becomes.  Do not be afraid to have the hard conversations with your child.  There are plenty of resources available to help you.  The Police Department, the Unified Prevention Coalition, SAMSHA, Community Services Board.  You can find many of the numbers on the Fairfax County Website.  The important thing is address it early and get help.    

Jim Ashcraft : What do you think of Medication Assisted Treatment via the use of Suboxone?

Peggy Cook : Suboxone can be very helpful.  The important thing is to make sure it is paired with other therapeutic activities (group and individual  counseling etc. )  Just taking the medication and not following through with other treatment is not nearly as successful.  It needs to be the combination.  At our agency here in Fairfax County, individuals who are in our treatment services are able to access suboxone as part of their treatment services.  We have found it very helpful and it has increased retention in treatment and positive outcomes. 

Anonymous User : How are high school students getting these opiates? What drugs are we talking about when we use that term?

Paul Cleveland : Today's students have instant access to the Internet.  Many of today's students are very good with technology and can gain access to just about anything on the internet.  Students can buy all of the precursors to these drugs online and make them themselves.  Also, students go into parents medication and take pills to parties.  This is very common.  Students also through an injury may be overprescribed medication and can become dependent on them.  So as you can see there are a number of ways that students get opiates.  Oxycodone, Percocet, Darvocet, are all examples of abused opiates.    

Waverley : I saw it reported that heroin overdoses were up 164 percent in Fairfax County. Is this true? What time frame does this represent? And how many of those ODs are fatal?

Paul Cleveland : Heroin overdoses are up substantially this is true.  For the last three years overdoses and overdose deaths have risen each year.  To date we have 66 overdose cases and 17 deaths for calendar year here in Fairfax County.  

COS Heather : What is the prognosis for a young adult going into treatment with an opiate addiction? What should a family expect the process to look like?

Peggy Cook : Recovery is certainly possible.  The challenge with young people is trying to keep them in treatment services.  Suboxone can help with this.  The initial phase of treatment when the individual is first coming off the drug is probably the most difficult.  Keep reminding them it will get better and try to connect them with other people who have been through this and are successful.  Talking to others who have an addiction  really helps with both creating hope and also with helping with denial.Stick in there.  There may be relapses along the way, but, over time, it is likely to have continuous improvement.

Harry : What do you know about the heroin "pill" that is reportedly widely available in New Jersey? Has it made its way here? What sort of impact could it have in Fairfax County by removing the stigma and fear of injecting heroin with a needle and instead just popping a pill for the same effect?

Paul Cleveland : In New Jersey they are dealing with some very substantial heroin issues.  The "heroin pill" is not new there.  In Fairfax County we have not seen this on a regular basis.  The stigma and fear of injecting is already gone.  Heroin users are not fearful of injecting they are fearful of getting sick.  True addicts do not care about how the heroin goes into their body they just need it to survive.  A pill does not concern them.  The pill would make it very easy for newer users to be less apprehensive about trying the drug.  There is a concern it would become prevalent here but as of now we are not seeing it on a regular basis. 

Community of Solution Heather : How are the drugs being distributed in the community and what have you found to be effective ways to interrupt the distribution networks?

Paul Cleveland : Drugs can be distributed and number of ways. It is being brought in from outside sources, users selling to users, addicts traveling and bringing it back, students sell to other students, kids taking medications from their parents and selling it.  The best way our agency interrupts the flow of distribution is from information.  We gain information from reliable sourcing in the community.  Often times this points our resources in the right direction.   

Peggy Cook : We have run out of time.  But please feel free to contact our agency for further assistance  703-383-8500 or check out the following we pages for additional information and support.