FBI Director James B. Comey to be keynote speaker at community summit on heroin, opioid epidemic

Henrico County and its Heroin Task Force will present a community summit Wednesday, March 1 on heroin and opioid abuse and addiction, which are growing at alarming rates locally, throughout Virginia and across the United States.

FBI Director James B. Comey will be the keynote speaker at the event, which will be held from 2 to 5 p.m. at Glen Allen High School, 10700 Staples Mill Road. The summit is free and open to the public, but registration is required. To register, go to HeroinOpioidCommunitySummit.eventbrite.com or call (804) 727-8574.

Comey, who was appointed FBI director in 2013, has long ties to central Virginia. He’s a former resident of Henrico and a graduate of the College of William & Mary. He served from 1996 to 2001 as the managing assistant U.S. attorney in charge of the Richmond Division of the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Virginia.

The summit is part of a comprehensive effort in Henrico to address the public threat posed by heroin and opioids. These potent, highly addictive drugs, which include prescription painkillers such as OxyContin and Vicodin, are threatening every community and segment of society, regardless of age or income.

The number of fatal opioid overdoses continues to rise sharply across the region, state and country. In Henrico alone, the opioid overdose deaths increased from 24 in 2013 to 37 in 2015. The county recorded 36 opioid overdose deaths during the first nine months of 2016, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

The summit will offer information from local community service providers and include a showing of “Chasing the Dragon: The Life of an Opioid Addict.” The 45-minute documentary, released last year by the FBI and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, provides explicit, first-person accounts of people who have either abused opioids or whose children have abused opioids with tragic consequences. The video’s title refers to the cycle of addiction and users’ pursuit of the so-called “ultimate” high.

The video presentation will be followed by a panel discussion that will include Henrico’s Police Chief Humberto “Hum” Cardounel Jr., Fire Chief Anthony E. McDowell, Sheriff Michael L. Wade, Commonwealth’s Attorney Shannon L. Taylor and Adam S. Lee, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Richmond Division, as well as others on the front lines of the heroin and opioid crisis.

The Henrico Heroin Task Force was established in May 2016 by County Manager John A. Vithoulkas to work with the community and treatment providers to develop a coordinated, comprehensive response to the epidemic. The task force includes Cardounel; McDowell; Wade; Taylor; Dr. Susan Fischer Davis, director of the Henrico Health Department; Laura S. Totty, director of Henrico Area Mental Health & Developmental Services; Beth Teigen, assistant superintendent for instruction for Henrico County Public Schools; Circuit Judge John Marshall; and T. Miller VanFossen Jr., of Community Corrections. The group’s efforts are focused on increasing public awareness to prevent opioid use as well as enhancing treatment, communication and support from first-responders and other medical personnel through the justice system.