ABC 13 Special Report: Deadly Addiction

Special Report: Deadly Addiction (Photo: WSET)

LYNCHBURG, Va., -- America is entering a new phase on the war on drugs. The lives of our families and friends are at risk.

Heroin and opioid abuse is ravaging our communities.

In Lynchburg, heroin possession cases have more than tripled over the last couple of years, and experts are seeing people overdose and die at an alarming rate.

Between the churches that line the streets of Lynchburg and behind the riverfront skyline, the calls are coming in. "It doesn't care if you are Black, White, Puerto Rican, Mexican" said recovering addict Oliver Geoghagen.

An average of 2 Virginians a day die from Heroin and Opioid overdoses.

Oliver Geoghagen and Terrence Engles fight every day NOT to become a statistic. Geoghagen is a recovering heroin addict. "I didn't used to get high... I used just to get through the day" said Geoghagen.

For Engles, it was pain pills. "It's hard to maintain a job when you are continually getting high" said Engles.

Two men, with bright futures, who found themselves falling down a very dark rabbit hole. Engles played for the Salem Red Sox and dreamed of the major leagues. But life threw this pitcher a curve ball when the game he loved left him with a serious back injury. "the doctor prescribed me vicodin... and immediately I was hooked. And I had all of these injuries to be able to show the doctors to get prescriptions" said Engles.

Geoghagen's battle is decades long. "I was 16 and the first drug I did was heroin" said Geoghagen. The father and successful business owner came to his tipping point about a year ago. "I had overdosed. I had gone out and used again. When they found me in the car, they had to bring me back to life" said Geoghagen.

LPD Officer Joel Hinkely is on the front lines of this heroin and opioid crisis. "Heroin is something that is not just an addiction, it is something that is a dependence where the body has to have it to function" said Hinkley.

The Lynchburg Police department is part of a local coalition fighting this new war on drugs. "a lot of it's coming from New Jersey, Philadelphia, Baltimore and even from the coast area, Portsmouth" said Hinkley.

Also on the front lines are medical professionals "We've come to understand that this is a brain disorder" explained Brent McCraw, the director of Centra's addiction and recovery services.

'We have, at the Attorney General's office, a multi-faceted approach to try to address it and turn it around" said Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring.

The new 5-point plan includes harsher prosecution of dealers and traffickers, but it also focuses on awareness, legislation and recovery. "We are not going to be able to arrest our way out of this....we also want to make sure that people understand that there is hope in recovery" said Herring.

Mark Herring gives Virginians a glimpse of that hope, through his 45-minute documentary "Heroin: The hardest hit." The film is one example of the educational and preventative measures his office is taking.

"It's important that we provide more information, especially to young people, about how dangerous these drugs are" said Herring.

And just last week, the governor announced a partnership with CVS Health, offering naloxone, the drug given to people who are overdosing, over the counter here in Virginia.

"Increasing access to naloxone does save lives" said Brian Moran, Secretary of Public Safety.

This news couldn't come at a better time. 15 years ago, McCraw says heroin addicts were rare at Pathways Treatment Center. "Today, 45 to 50% of our patients at pathways are opiate dependent or heroin dependent" said McCraw.

"If someone didn't point me in the right direction, I'd probably be dead or in jail" said Engles.

Geoghagen and Engles survived to tell their stories, in hopes it might just save someone else's life.

"I want to be able to help people, I think that I am here for a reason...that I survived for a reason" said Geoghagen.

If you or someone you know needs help overcoming a heroin or opiod addcition.

You can call Terrence Engles with American Addiction Centers at 540-910-0524.

Just last week, the House of Representatives passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. The bill also known as the CARA aims to prevent opioid and heroin abuse through education -- while also focusing on treatment and recovery.

It also expands the availability of Naloxone, the drug that reverses overdoses, to law enforcement officials and other first responders.

Here in Lynchburg, only EMS crews are equipped with the drug.

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