Gov. McAuliffe signs bills to fight the opioid epidemic

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed several bills Thursday aimed at fighting the opioid epidemic in the Commonwealth.

“Abuse of opioids continues to kill Virginians,” Gov. McAuliffe said. “We recognize that addiction is a disease, not a moral failing, and our proposals for this General Assembly session focused on preventing addiction and providing treatment for those who suffer from it.”

While finalized numbers have not been tallied, the Virginia Department of Health predicts that more than 1,000 people died from fatal opioid overdoses in the past year. If these numbers prove to be true that would signify a 33 percent increase in fatal opioid overdoses from 2015 to 2016.

The Virginia Board of Medicine voted to adopt new regulations earlier this month.

To see the full regulations, click here.

These regulations address the safe prescribing of opioids and buprenorphine by health care practitioners in the Commonwealth. The regulations also give prescribers a descriptive template for effective prescribing habits to ultimately produce best patient outcomes.

The opioid prescribing regulations address three common types of pain: Acute pain (often from injury or minor illness), pain resulting from surgery and chronic pain. The regulations prescribe limitations on the number of days opioids should be prescribed while maintaining a physician’s discretion to exceed in cases where medically necessary.  The BOM also addressed the prescribing of buprenorphine, used to treat opioid addiction, to ensure Virginians struggling with an opioid use disorder have every opportunity to successfully manage their disease.

“The epidemic of opioid abuse and overdose has devastated thousands of Virginia families,” said Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources Dr. Bill Hazel. “Setting limits and guidelines for proper prescribing, as these regulations do, will help curtail the flow of pills into our communities and significantly reduce the chances of people becoming addicted to prescribed medications. The new regulations also help ensure when people are prescribed the addiction treatment medication buprenorphine, they get the addiction counseling that is critical to their recovery.”

Secretary of Health and Human Resources Dr. Bill Hazel spoke to the bipartisan nature of the legislation.

“Getting this legislation approved has taken the work of legislators from both parties and many stakeholders,” Hazel said. “The work is proof the opioid epidemic is not a partisan issue, but a public health emergency.”

In addition to the legislation, Gov. McAuliffe is in the process of reviewing new Board of Medicine regulations on prescribing opioids to treat both acute and chronic pain. These new regulations will require people suffering from addiction who are prescribed buprenorphine to also get counseling to help provide long-term recovery.

All told, Gov. McAuliffe signed five bills into law:

  • SB848 (Wexton) and HB1453 (LaRock) allow community organizations to possess and dispense naloxone to those that they train to use it.
  • HB2317 (O’Bannon) allows local departments of health to administer harm reduction programs in parts of the state with very high rates of HIV and Hep C. These programs will exchange dirty syringes for clean ones, offer testing for Hep C and HIV, and connect people to addiction treatment.
  • HB1786 (Stolle) initiates a family assessment and plan of care from local social services if a child is found to have been exposed to substances in utero. This connects the mother to treatment if necessary and provides services to ensure the safety of both the mother and the child.
  • HB2165 (Pillion) mandates that all opioid prescriptions will be transmitted to pharmacies electronically by 2020 and creates a workgroup to study how to implement this change.

This is a developing story. Stay with 8News online and on air for the latest updates.

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