Prince William Times: Police chief, congresswoman warn of local fentanyl crisis: ‘It’s affecting all of us’


Prince William County Police Chief Peter Newsham sounded the alarm Tuesday about the dangers of illegal fentanyl, calling it a “crisis.” 

Prince William County has lost at least 177 people to fatal overdoses involving fentanyl since 2021. In addition to those confirmed deaths, 47 more fatal overdoses are awaiting toxicology results and could be due to fentanyl, Newsham said during a March 19 joint press conference with Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, in Woodbridge.

Already, in just the first two months of 2024, 10 people have died from overdoses suspected to be caused by fentanyl, Newsham said.

Beyond the overdoses, the Prince William County Police Department fielded more than 1,000 opioid-related calls for service and seized more than 440,000 counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl, he said.

“Our goal here today is to call attention to this crisis, remind folks that this is real,” Newsham said. “These are real people who are dying. These are real families and real communities that are being impacted.”

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid used to treat patients with chronic, severe pain or for pain after surgery. It is often mixed with other illicit drugs to increase their potency, which also increases the drugs’ addictiveness, he said.

There is no specific group of people dying from fentanyl overdoses in Prince William, rather the incidents cut across all demographic groups, he said.

Fentanyl can be packaged in a powder form, as a nasal spray and also pressed into pills to look like prescription medicine, especially Percocet, Newsham said.

Just “two milligrams of fentanyl can be fatal,” he said. That’s about the size of two grains of salt or sand.

Fentanyl has even been added to marijuana edibles like gummies Newsham said.

“When you’re young and you’re in school, one of your friends may hand you something edible. You think it’s marijuana. You think it’s safe. If you don’t know what it is, that could be the last day of your life if it’s laced with fentanyl,” he said.

Smoking fentanyl has recently become more common than injecting opioids in drug overdose deaths, according to a February CDC report referenced by Spanberger.

Nearly 70% of the more than 109,000 drug overdose deaths that occurred in the United States in 2022 involved illegally manufactured fentanyl, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“In 2022, fentanyl caused or contributed to nearly eight in 10 overdose deaths in Virginia,” Spanberger said. “And alarmingly, those numbers are rising to the point where drug overdoses have continued to be the leading cause of unnatural death in Virginia for more than a decade.”

Across Virginia in 2022, 1,967 people died overdosing from fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. That equates to a death rate of 22.9 people per 100,000 statewide, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

In Prince William County, there were 69 fatal opioid overdoses for a death rate of 14.5 per 100,000 residents. In the same year in Fauquier County, there were 14 deaths, equating to a death rate of 19.6 per 100,000 residents, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

Newsham said the number of overdose deaths in the county would likely have been much greater if it weren’t for county first responders administering Narcan, the brand name for naloxone, which reverses the effects of an overdose. He called the medicine a “miracle drug.”

The police department administered Narcan 71 times, and the Prince William County Fire and Rescue Department used it over 400 times from 2021 through 2023, he said.

Spanberger, who has announced she is running for governor in 2025, said she has introduced bills in Congress to provide law enforcement with the tools and training they need to tackle the illicit fentanyl crisis in Virginia and across the country.

Spanberger highlighted her bipartisan POWER Act that, if passed, will provide state and local law enforcement with new devices to detect and identify dangerous drugs, including fentanyl, more quickly. Fast detection allows law enforcement to identify when narcotics are laced with fentanyl so community members, schools and county officials can put out warnings much sooner and hopefully, save lives, Spanberger said.

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