Virginia's Opioid Addiction Problem is Now a Public Health Emergency

Nov 21, 2016

By the end of this year, the number of fatal opioid overdoses in Virginia is expected to increase by 77% compared to five years ago. It’s a situation that is now defined as a public health emergency. 

Governor Terry McAuliffe is trying to bring more attention to the opioid epidemic in Virginia by declaring it a public health emergency – a definition used to describe any event, whether natural or manmade, that poses a risk to public health.

Dr. Hughes Melton, Chief Deputy Commissioner for Public Health and Preparedness, says the move is about education:

“We are hopeful that people are going to be willing to learn about the disease; what we know about it now, because I think that will help us to respond to it in a more evidence-based and effective manner.”

While the numbers are staggering, Melton says there are clear steps to take for families dealing with the disease of addiction:

Credit Brandon Giesbrecht / Flickr

“The first step is to educate themselves about the disease. So, just like if they had a family member who was diagnosed with diabetes they would want to learn about the nature of the disease, what kind of medicines are used to treat it. So what that means for addiction would be learn about the disease, find out what treatment resources are available in your region and then go obtain naloxone for the house in case there is an adverse event associated with the addiction.”

Naloxone is a drug that reverses the effects of narcotics overdoses in extreme situations and is now available to all Virginians as a result of the public health emergency. The drug was previously only available with a prescription.