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Northwestern Virginia reports increase in overdoses, fentanyl seized

Fake prescription pills containing fentanyl photographed by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Fake prescription pills containing fentanyl photographed by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

A regional law enforcement task force reports that the northwestern corner of Virginia saw an increase in drug overdoses and overdose deaths last month. WMRA's Randi B. Hagi reports.

The Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force issued a press release last week saying that there were 11 overdoses in the area – five of them fatal – between February 10th and 24th. That was a marked increase from the five overdoses, including one death, that happened in the first six weeks of 2024. The task force operates in the city of Winchester and counties of Frederick, Clarke, Warren, Shenandoah, and Page.

Virginia State Police Special Agent Harvey Stover said they believe fentanyl is causing the overdoses. It's commonly found in pills that are imprinted with the characters "M30" to look like Percocets.

HARVEY STOVER: These pills are not containing oxycodone. They're actually containing fentanyl and whatever binder products that the suppliers or sources are putting in it. Of course, some of the fentanyl we've seen has come in a powder form.

WAYNE SAGER: You know, we've seen the increase in our overdose calls as well.

Strasburg Police Chief Wayne Sager said his department has two detectives assigned to the task force, and partners with local nonprofits and mental healthcare providers on addiction prevention efforts.

SAGER: It's difficult to manage just in the walls of, say, Shenandoah County and the boundaries of Virginia. … Where we gotta really slow down is through the trafficking into our country, and it is really a national crisis that we're fighting on a local level with local resources, so that makes it very challenging.

In the first two months of 2024, the task force seized approximately four times the amount of fentanyl as they did all of last year. The Office of the Virginia Attorney General has launched the "One Pill Can Kill" initiative and website to educate the public about the dangers of fentanyl and fake prescription pills.

Randi B. Hagi first joined the WMRA team in 2019 as a freelance reporter. Her writing and photography have been featured in The Harrisonburg Citizen, where she previously served as the assistant editor; as well as The Mennonite; Mennonite World Review; and Eastern Mennonite University's Crossroads magazine.