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Heroin attack urged in Va.

Twelve members of the Virginia Congressional delegation urged Gov. Terry McAuliffe to address the growing heroin epidemic affecting local communities across the state.

The bipartisan group of leaders, including U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, asked in a joint letter for a statewide taskforce to be created to help combat heroin use.

“We write out of our deep concern about the rapid spread of heroin use—and overdose deaths due to heroin—throughout Virginia over the last year,” the legislators wrote. “Not a week goes by without a local newspaper or TV news program in Virginia reporting on the death of yet another heroin addict. Many localities are on track to see double the number of heroin-overdose deaths over last year”

Local law enforcement authorities said the Fredericksburg area is not immune to the rising use of the dangerous drug.

Stafford County narcotics detectives have been particularly focused on heroin recently, in part because of 12 deaths attributed to heroin overdoses in the county over the past 15 or so months.

Stafford Sheriff’s Office spokesman Bill Kennedy said their office has spent a lot of time, effort and assets to try to eliminate heroin use and distribution in the county.

“We’re not stopping,” he said. “[Our efforts] are continuing and we’re addressing the issue.”

Many parts of the country, particularly states in the Northeast, are claiming near epidemic-level problems resulting from an increased usage of the drug, especially among people 25 and younger.

Statewide, there were 197 heroin-related deaths last year, according to Virginia’s chief medical examiner’s office.

In Culpeper County, the Sheriff’s Office reported 20 deaths from heroin overdoses since January 2013.

However, the problem hasn’t been nearly as grave in other area localities.

And while not everyone agrees that heroin is the biggest drug problem they face, law enforcement officials around the area say they have noticed an increase in its usage.

There were five fatal heroin overdoses each in Spotsylvania County and Fredericksburg last year, the state reported.

City police spokeswoman Natatia Bledsoe said the department has also seen a steady rise in documented drug violations that involved heroin in recent years, going from seven in 2010 to 39 last year.

Spotsylvania County Sheriff Roger Harris has made it a priority in his department to be proactive in combating heroin trafficking issues.

“We’ve had some successes lately in apprehending and prosecuting those involved in drug dealing, including heroin,” said Capt. Jeff Pearce. “Our specialty units within our criminal investigative division, for example, our street crime and narcotics units, are consistently working investigations to halt the flow of drugs through our area.”

A man recently convicted of several robberies in Spotsylvania told police the reason he committed the crimes was because he was strung out on heroin and opiates.

Pearce said trends show heroin is coming to the area from Asia and Mexico and it’s being used by younger people, including teens.

After some fatal overdoes last summer, Pearce said arrests were made following a joint investigation with the Stafford and Culpeper sheriff’s offices.

There have been two recent heroin-overdose deaths in King George, records show: one on Dec. 13 and another on Feb. 24.

Caroline County had one heroin-overdose death last year, according to state figures.

Christine Graham, substance-abuse coordinator for the Rappahannock Area Community Services Board, said the agency started noticing an uptick in clients addicted to heroin in 2010.

She said people addicted to prescription painkillers switch to heroin because it’s cheaper and has become easier to get.

“People used to have to go to Richmond or D.C. to get heroin, but now they can get it in this area,” she said.

Portsia Smith: 540/374-5419