NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — A group that brings together law enforcement, parents, clergy and others to address the opioid crisis is marking its second anniversary in Hampton Roads.
Attorney General Mark Herring says the Opioid Working Group is making progress lately, but still has much work to do.
“Last year, the number of fatal overdoses in Hampton Roads for the first quarter decreased by 20 percent, so that’s encouraging,” said Herring.
But he also says that good news comes with a challenge. “We know that we cannot let up at all.”
Herring spoke to the group on its second anniversary. He told the gathering at First Presbyterian Church in Norfolk that clergy are an important part of the combined effort needed to save lives.
“We know when people are struggling and dealing with difficult problems and issues, very often they turn to their faith and faith community for health support and strength,” said Herring.
The Urban Renewal Center (URC) hosted the meeting. It’s based in Norfolk and, according to their website, it sees “congregations as an essential part of neighborhoods, communities and city life.”
URC’s founding dean says area clergy are already making an impact by teaming up with law enforcement. “We have clergy patrol and when we’re out on the street with the police, sometimes we’ll get calls about overdoses,” said Dr. Antipas Harris. “(We even get) calls even from our parishioners and their family members who are in the hospital.”
U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Zachary Terwilliger talked about a synthetic opioid that is far more powerful than heroin — fentanyl. He says fentanyl is making it to the streets of Hampton Roads, often right through the U.S. Mail.
“We recently had a meeting just yesterday with the postal inspection service to make sure as each parcel comes in we are doing our best to interdict it,” said Terwilliger.
Harris says our region stands out as an example when it comes to progress in combating the addiction epidemic. “Nationally it’s getting worse. Locally it is getting better here in Virginia, so we’re hoping that we can create a model that we can transport to other states.”