Last week, Virginia's congressional delegation wrote a letter to Gov. Terry McAuliffe urging him to set up a task force to address the "growing heroin epidemic in Virginia." Many localities, they note, "are on track to see double the number of heroin overdose deaths over last year."
Let's stipulate that any heroin overdose is horribly tragic and the ideal number of heroin users would be zero, writes A. Barton Hinkle. That said, terms like "epidemic" and "double the number" obscure as much as they clarify. It's true that heroin deaths in Virginia have nearly doubled. They have risen from 101 (in 2011) to 197 (in 2013). That's less than the number who died in 2012, the most recent year available, from intestinal infections (212); septicemia, or blood poisoning (1,305); pneumonia (1,275); kidney failure (1,501); or falling (646). Are these "epidemics" that require special task forces? If not, does heroin?