RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced Monday morning that State Health Commissioner Marissa J. Levine, MD, MPH, FAAFP, has declared the Virginia opioid addiction crisis a Public Health Emergency.
This declaration comes in response to the growing number of overdoses attributed to opioid use, and evidence that Carfentanil, a highly dangerous synthetic opioid used to sedate large animals such as elephants, has made its way its way into Virginia.
A Public Health Emergency is an event, either natural or manmade, that creates a health risk to the public.
“Too many families across Virginia and the nation are dealing with heartbreak and loss as a result of prescription opioid and heroin abuse epidemic,” said Governor McAuliffe. “We cannot stand by while these drugs harm our communities and our economy. That is why I support Dr. Levine’s decision to declare a public health emergency, to heighten awareness of this issue, provide a framework for further actions to fight it, and to save Virginians’ lives.”
In response to the Public Health Emergency, and in partnership with Virginia’s Board of Pharmacy, Department of Health Professions and Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, Dr. Levine has issued a standing order that allows all Virginians to obtain the drug Naloxone, which can be used to treat narcotic overdoses in emergency situations.
The standing order serves as a prescription written for the general public, rather than specifically for an individual, removing a barrier to access.
“As we see the nature of drug addiction shift, from prescription opioids to heroin and synthetic fentanyl, we must be vigilant and ready to respond quickly,” said Secretary of Health and Human Resources Dr. Bill Hazel. “The overdose rates in Virginia have led me to agree with Dr. Levine that we are indeed experiencing a public health emergency. This declaration helps us respond in a nimble way to a rapidly changing threat, while the Naloxone standing order from Dr. Levine broadens our ability to get life-saving medication into Virginians’ hands.”
By the end of 2016, the numbers of fatal opioid overdose deaths are expected to increase by 77 percent, compared to five years ago. In 2014, for the first time in Virginia, more people died from opioid overdoses than fatal car accidents.
Emergency department visits for heroin overdose for January-September 2016 increased 89 percent, compared to the same nine-month period in 2015.
In the first half of 2016, the total number of fatal drug overdoses in Virginia increased 35 percent, when compared to the same time period in 2015, and in 2013, fatal drug overdoses became the number one cause of unnatural death.
“Thanksgiving offers many of us a chance to spend time with family and loved ones. While we are enjoying this time with those closest to us, it’s important that we take stock of their health and well-being,” said Virginia State Health Commissioner Dr. Marissa Levine. “Too many Virginia families have lost someone to opioid addiction. These actions today will not diminish their loss, but we owe it to them and each other to work together, watch out for each other and continue to combat the seriousness of this crisis.”
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