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Opioid crisis declared public health emergency in Virginia

November 22, 2016

As overdose cases attributed to opioid use continue to climb, Virginia health commissioner Marissa J. Levine, MD, MPH, FAAFP, on Monday declared the opioid epidemic to be a state public health emergency and issued a standing order for all Virginia residents to have access to naloxone.

According to a news release from the office of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe:

  • From January through September in Virginia, emergency room visits related to heroin overdose increased 89% compared to the same period in 2015;
  • Fatal drug overdoses overall for the first half of 2016 were up 35% over the first six months of 2015; and
  • The total number of opioid overdose-related deaths across the state by the end of 2016 is expected to be up 77% compared to five years ago.

The standing order for naloxone, issued by the health commissioner in partnership with Virginia’s Board of Pharmacy, Department of Health Professions, and Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, allows the public to obtain the overdose-reversing agent over the counter from pharmacists.

With gatherings coming at Thanksgiving this week, the governor’s office in its news release encouraged residents to talk with friends and family members they suspect might be at risk of addiction and/or substance abuse, know the warning signs of recent opioid use, properly dispose of medications, and keep naloxone on hand for possible overdose emergencies if a friend/family member is known to be struggling with opioid addiction.

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