Virginia Makes Naloxone Available To All, Declares Opioid Crisis A Public Health Emergency

By Victoria Kim 11/23/16

With opiate overdoses and overdose deaths steadily rising, Virginia has opted to declare opioid addiction a public health emergency.

Virginia Makes Naloxone Available To All, Declares Opioid Crisis A Public Health Emergency
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A week after the release of the first-ever Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health, Virginia’s top health official has declared opioid abuse a public health emergency in the state.

The state’s Health Commissioner Dr. Marissa Levine shared her decision in a statement released Monday. She also used the opportunity to expand access to the opioid overdose antidote naloxone, by writing a blanket prescription for the drug for anybody in Virginia. 

Naloxone was already available without a prescription in some Virginia pharmacies, but Levine’s decision is meant to fill in the “continued gaps” in access to the lifesaving drug.

According to Levine, three Virginians die of a drug overdose every day, on average. The number of people seen in emergency rooms for a heroin overdose increased by 89% for the first nine months of 2016, and fatal drug overdoses rose by 35% in the first half of 2016, compared to the same period in 2015.

According to a January report by the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, almost 80% of about 1,000 fatal overdoses in the state in 2014 were caused by prescription painkillers or heroin

At least two recent sightings of carfentanil in Virginia threaten to boost these numbers. The synthetic opioid is 10,000 times more potent than morphine and is normally used to sedate large animals like elephants. The drug made headlines over the summer for causing waves of overdoses in Ohio on multiple occasions. 

This Thanksgiving, Levine urged Virginians to “take inventory of one another” as well as taking “inventory of the medications in our household.” The health commissioner encouraged the proper disposal of “unused, expired or unwanted medications in a safe manner” at participating pharmacies and local law enforcement agencies.

Other ways the state is attempting to slow down the opioid problem include distributing information to prescribers on how to safely prescribe opioid pain medication. The guidelines ask doctors to consider co-prescribing naloxone with opioid medication, and to decide whether or when to end the treatment regimen.

In 2014, the Governor's Task Force on Prescription Drug and Heroin Abuse was formed. The goal of the coalition of medical and behavioral health care professionals, law enforcement, government, and community advocates is to recommend immediate steps to stop the opioid abuse problem from growing.

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