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Virginia - officially known as "The Old Dominion State" because of its status as England's oldest colony in the Americas-- is also known for being the birthplace of eight former Presidents of the United States, and in general, for its historic role in the birthing of America. But sadly in recent times, Virginia has become known for something else-a rising tide of drug and alcohol addiction.
Virginia boasts a relatively comfortable average annual income of $98,000, and thus one might be tempted to think that it had been spared the wave of drug addiction affecting poorer states, but nothing could be further from the truth. In 2011, the number of meth lab seizure incidents in the state of Virginia increased 958%, from 19 incidents in 2008 to 201. And, as a direct consequence of drug use, 700 people died in Virginia in 2009. Despite the state being fairly well-off in terms of resources, substance abuse in Virginia gives major cause for concern.
When we look at the relationship between addiction and economics in Virginia, we quickly realize that it's complicated. Drug and alcohol abuse affects the entire country, and no state in the US has been spared, including Virginia. In 2016 the United States had over 60,000 overdoses, (a rate of 175 people dying per day,) and when we examine the numbers, we see that overdoses kill more people annually than suicides, homicides, car accidents or guns. And, although poorer people are statistically more likely to struggle with drug or alcohol abuse, correlation is not causation. This doesn't necessarily mean that people that are more well-off economically (like many in Virginia) are less likely to become addicted; in fact sometimes wealthy people are thrown into poverty directly because of addiction. Someone who is solidly middle class can fall into poverty if their addiction leads to poor work performance and job loss. And, if someone has been fired from an old job, it can become a great deal harder to get a new one. It's a vicious downward spiral.
Much like the rest of the United States, prescription painkiller (opioid) addiction has blown mercilessly through Virginia, wreaking havoc on communities and ripping apart whole families. In 2011, Virginia drug treatment admissions for opiates surpassed admissions for heroin and cocaine. And among opioid-involved deaths, those involving prescription opioids were 326 in 2018 (a rate of 3.8). Opioid addiction is particularly menacing because, due to the highly addictive nature of the drugs, it can sneak up on even the most careful of people, even when they think they're being vigilant.
Just as in the rest of the country, the root of the opioid problem in Virginia stems from doctors over-prescribing these highly addictive pills when, in many cases, lesser drugs like Tylenol, Excedrin or Advil will do. Opioids may seem safe because a doctor prescribes them, but just one or two of few these prescription pain pills can get people hooked and send them off on a path to full-on dependency. In 2018, Virginia providers wrote 44.8 opioid prescriptions for every 100 persons people!
Sadly many Virginia residents have discovered that abusing prescription painkillers can lead to using even more dangerous substances. Federal and state regulations now try to regulate and limit the prescribing of opioids, (a valiant effort) but it has had the unintended effect of causing the use of street drugs like heroin (which is cheaper to obtain on the streets and gives a similar high) to skyrocket. Deaths involving heroin in Virginia in 2018 were recorded at 532 (a rate of 6.4). And, the danger to substance abusers in Virginia doesn't stop there. When certain street drugs like heroin aren't available, drug addicts often then turn to incredibly dangerous synthetics like fentanyl, (which is far stronger than heroin) and the result is usually a body bag. Initially, most users don't intentionally seek out fentanyl, but unfortunately once a person has been exposed to a higher toxicity of a drug, the brain chemistry is altered further, and users will seek out the most potent form. At the height of addiction, users are wholly unable to calculate the risk and are willing to go to any length to obtain the high. In the United States as a whole, synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, are now the most common drugs involved in overdose deaths, responsible for 59% of all opioid-related decedents.
A recent study took a look at substance abuse among youth in Virginia and the numbers give cause for concern.
4% of high school students report they used any form of cocaine (for example, powder, crack, or freebase) 1 or more times (lifetime.)
4% report they've used pain relievers in any way not directed by a doctor in the past year.
Although the drug and alcohol abuse situation looks bleak by the numbers, the good news for Virginia residents struggling with addiction is that help is only a few clicks away. We are more connected now than we have ever been, and The Old Dominion State has an abundance of resources to fit every need, whether you just want counseling, a broader more community-based approach, or are seeking full-on detox services. The important part is acknowledging the forces holding you back so you can begin the journey towards breaking free of them. This is the first step toward the rest of your life.
Virginia State Facts
Virginia Population: 7,077,709
Law Enforcement Officers in Virginia: 22,966
Virginia Prison Population: 52,000
Virginia Probation Population: 40,359
Violent Crime Rate National Ranking: 35
2004 Federal Drug Seizures in Virginia
Cocaine: 39.3 kgs.
Heroin: 0.7 kgs.
Methamphetamine: 6.3 kgs.
Marijuana: 59.4 kgs.
Ecstasy: 2,861 tablets
Methamphetamine Laboratories: 61 (DEA, state, and local)
Virginia Drug Situation: Historically, the mid-Atlantic region has served as a thoroughfare for drugs, drug-related proceeds, weapons and other contraband traveling along the east coast of the United States. Virginia cities situated along Interstate-95 are vulnerable to "spillover" drug distribution from traffickers moving between the two major eastern drug importation hubs of New York City and Miami. Cocaine, crack cocaine and the violence attendant with the trafficking of these drugs are the most significant drug problem in the state, according to most law enforcement sources. However, MDMA abuse and distribution is an already large and still-growing problem, seizures of clandestine methamphetamine laboratories increase every year, and Mexican trafficking organizations are making enormous inroads in the cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana distribution markets in nearly every part of the state.
Cocaine in Virginia: Cocaine in both powder and crack forms is prevalent throughout the state of Virginia, in both wholesale and retail quantities. Considerable levels of violence continue to be associated with the crack cocaine trade in urban areas. Colombian and Dominican drug trafficking organizations in New York City remain the primary sources for most of the cocaine available in Virginia. Nonetheless, many local traffickers are becoming more reliant on Mexican sources of supply in the southwestern U.S., North Carolina and Georgia.
Heroin in Virginia: The Richmond and Tidewater areas of Virginia both boast a consistent, long-term heroin abuse population. Pockets of heroin distribution are present in other areas of the state as well, but the problem is less pronounced. In recent years, "experimental" use of heroin by younger drug users was on the rise, but appears to have stabilized. Most of the heroin encountered in Virginia tends to be of higher-than-average purity. In the Norfolk area, heroin is packaged primarily in gelatin capsules, while it is packaged in small, usually colored or marked, ziploc baggies in other parts of the state.
Methamphetamine in Virginia: Although still minimal, localized clandestine manufacture of methamphetamine has increased in Virginia every year for the past several years, with most of the activity centered on the far southwestern corner of the state bordering West Virginia, North Carolina and Kentucky. The Shenandoah Valley region contains the highest percentage of methamphetamine abusers in the state, and was the first area of the state to receive a huge influx of Mexican immigrants, whose presence encouraged an expansion of existing Mexican drug-trafficking networks. In rave and nightclub venues, both "ice" and methamphetamine have become drugs of choice.
Club Drugs in Virginia: Of the club drugs widely abused and available within Virginia, MDMA is by far the easiest to obtain and most in demand. Once limited to abuse among teen and young-adult "ravers" from the affluent Washington, DC suburbs, MDMA is now a drug of choice among young adult drug users throughout the state, regardless of socio-economic and ethnic background. GHB and Ketamine are also widely available but, unlike MDMA, tend to remain within the nightclub/rave community. Other hallucinogenic and stimulant drugs, such as the piperazines, psilocybin mushrooms, LSD and PCP are also available, with their abuse tending to exhibit cyclical patterns or be limited to particular venues and/or events.
Marijuana in Virginia: Marijuana is the most widely abused drug in the state of Virginia. Most of the marijuana available in the state is commercial grade product, imported from the southwestern U.S. Demand for high-grade marijuana, however, is at extremely high levels with source areas ranging from the Pacific Northwest to the New England states. Outdoor marijuana cultivation flourishes during the spring and summer, and indoor grows are increasingly common. Hydroponic indoor grows have not been encountered.
OxyContin and Other Prescription Drug Diversion in Virginia: Virginia is one of the half-dozen or so states commonly cited by law enforcement and medical practitioners when discussing the national OxyContin abuse "epidemic." Indeed, Virginia was one of the first states to record extraordinary levels of OxyContin diversion and abuse. Although abuse of the prescription painkiller was initially limited to users in the southwestern portion of the state, that abuse has spread to include most of western Virginia and much of central and northern Virginia as well. Sources for diverted OxyContin are located both within and outside of Virginia's borders. The diversion and abuse of other prescription drugs has a long history in Virginia, particularly in the southwestern portion of the state.
DEA Mobile Enforcement Teams: This cooperative program with state and local law enforcement counterparts was conceived in 1995 in response to the overwhelming problem of drug-related violent crime in towns and cities across the nation. There have been 409 deployments completed resulting in 16,763 arrests of violent drug criminals as of February 2004. There have been nine Washington Division Mobile Enforcement Team (MET) deployments in the State of Virginia since the inception of the program: Manassas, Chincoteague, Fredericksburg, Richmond, Petersburg, Hampton, Prince William County, Hopewell, and Shenandoah Valley.
DEA Regional Enforcement Teams: This program was designed to augment existing DEA division resources by targeting drug organizations operating in the United States where there is a lack of sufficient local drug law enforcement. This Program was conceived in 1999 in response to the threat posed by drug trafficking organizations that have established networks of cells to conduct drug trafficking operations in smaller, non-traditional trafficking locations in the United States. Nationwide, there have been 22 deployments completed resulting in 608 arrests of drug trafficking criminals as of February 2004. There has been one RET deployment in the State of Virginia since the inception of the program: Portsmouth.
Other Enforcement Operations in Virginia: The Washington/Baltimore HIDTA and Metropolitan Area Task Force (MATF) both participate in and assist in the funding of enforcement groups in northern Virginia. Northern Virginia is further served by an interdiction task force covering Reagan National Airport, Dulles International Airport, and the Amtrak train station in Alexandria.
DEA Special Topics: The Annandale High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA)/MATF is comprised of two DEA task forces. Seven local agencies and the State Police are represented. On the federal level, the FBI provides three Special Agents. Housed within the same office space is a joint IRS/Secret Service money laundering group. Analytical support is provided by intelligence analysts assigned to the Washington Field Division’s Intelligence Group 31.