Virginia’s death toll from heroin overdoses continues rising despite the state’s efforts to combat the epidemic.

Statistics from the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) Office of the Chief Medical Examiner’s ‘Fatal Drug Overdose Quarterly Report’ of the fourth quarter of 2015 shows that fatal heroin overdoses have risen from below 100 in 2010 to more than 300 in 2015.

Just this month, the state had 15 heroin overdose reports in Culpeper County. While the good news was that no one died, the bad news is that this figure was the total number of heroin overdoses the county experienced the whole of last year.

According to FOX5 News, Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Tim Murphy said, “I would describe it right now as a plague. I can’t stress enough on family members and loved ones – you have to step in. This is a drug that doesn’t give a second chance sometimes.”

Prosecution Threatens Dealers with Murder Charges

In February, this year, U.S Attorney Dana Boente and Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring spoke at a news conference in Norfolk where they warned drug dealers that they would be held culpable if someone died from a heroin overdose.

The Washington Post quoted Boente in an interview saying, “We hope that they understand that they will be prosecuted and there will be severe penalties for selling heroin when someone dies. If we can charge that within the requirements of the law, we’re going to, in appropriate cases, charge that case, and we’re going to be aggressive in those investigations.”

Unfortunately, this threat has not been heeded judging by the manner in which heroin overdose deaths have continued rising. Forming the Governor’s Task Force on Prescription Drug and Heroin Abuse in late 2014 has also not helped either. Young people are also beginning to experiment with heroin. It is as if people are not as informed about the dangers of the drug as you would expect them to be.

For instance, FOX5 reported that 79 students self-reported using heroin in Fauquier County. Those are potential fatal cases just waiting to happen. But it doesn’t get any better. There is another threat from heroin mixed with other drugs.

Stronger and Potentially Lethal Heroin in Circulation

According to the 4th quarter ‘Fatal Drug Overdose Quarterly Report’ of 2015, in fatal cases of heroin overdoses which involved other substances, 28.5 percent of the drugs were prescription opioid painkillers, 23.6% was alcohol and 21.2% was cocaine. The report also shows the worrying trend of a stronger and lethal heroin mixture involving the drug Fentanyl.

The total number of overdose deaths from heroin and fentanyl mixtures has significantly increased since 2012, as stated by the report. Fentanyl is added to heroin to make heroin more potent. In other cases, drug dealers lie to their customers that they are buying heroin when they are instead getting grounded fentanyl pills. This has led to a higher percentage of fatal overdoses since fentanyl is said to be about 50 times more potent than heroin.

Sheriff Scott H. Jenkins from Culpeper County was quoted by the Washington Post saying that the heroin-fentanyl mixture was “deadly”. He added, “If you have friends or family that you suspect may be abusing heroin, or might abuse heroin, talk to them about this dangerous drug on the streets now.”

Despite the continued heroin abuse in the state, Virginia should continue funding more treatment, educational and law enforcement programs so as to stop the spread of the epidemic.