Governor signs bills aimed at combating opioid epidemic

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The state health commissioner has declared it a public health crisis as prescription and heroin drug overdoses continue to rise throughout the state, but Governor Terry McAuliffe signed four bills Thursday aimed at fighting what has become an epidemic.

“Today we are beginning that process of doing something to help the people that are in such dire need,” said McAuliffe.

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The measures include efforts to increase access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone and to move Virginia to all electronic prescriptions by 2020. The department of health projects that more than 1,000 people died from fatal opioid overdoses in 2016.

“130 overdoses last year in 2016 in Chesterfield County,” said Regina Whitsett with Chesterfield SAFE.

Whitsett says addiction often starts innocently.

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“It often starts with a sports injury or a back injury and they’re prescribed the opioid and pain narcotics,” Whitsett added.

That’s how Tracy Grow says it started for her son, Taylor. Grow spoke to us earlier this month about how pain meds for an injury turned to an addiction that would eventually take her son’s life.

“There are parents out there that are struggling with that and it is difficult for them to admit that their child died due to substance abuse or addiction,” Grow said.

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It’s the growing number of similar tragedies that lawmakers say has inspired both Republicans and Democrats to act.

“The people and the families whose lives have been devastated by heroin and prescription drugs and it’s been really hearing their stories that has propelled everybody to action,” said Attorney General Mark Herring.

“We have a long way to go but I’m very proud that all of us have come together to do what we need to do to keep our citizens safe,” said McAuliffe.

This week the state board of medicine also approved new guidelines for prescribing drugs. The goal is to make sure patients don’t become addicted to pain meds or turn to street drugs.

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