Virginia declares opioid addiction a public health crisis

Nick Shepherd • Nov 25, 2016 at 8:00 PM

Due to the growing number of overdoses and amid evidence that powerful prescription painkillers are making their way into Virginia, the commonwealth declared opioid addiction a public health crisis this week.

The announcement, made by Virginia Health Commissioner Dr. Marissa Levine and Gov. Terry McAuliffe, comes on the heels of a landmark report issued by U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy saying that addiction is one of America’s most pressing public health concerns.

“Alcohol and drug addiction take an enormous toll on individuals, families, and communities,” said Murthy in a press release. “Most Americans know someone who has been touched by an alcohol or a drug use disorder. Yet 90 percent of people with a substance use disorder are not getting treatment. That has to change.”

Tennessee officials also took note of the report and hope to add more recovery options for those dealing with substance abuse and to combat the stigma associated with addiction.

“Tennessee has engaged the faith-based community in the fight against addiction in hopes of reducing the stigma associated with substance abuse,” said Rodney Bragg, assistant commissioner of substance abuse services for the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse. “Since its inception, the Faith-Based Initiative in Tennessee has seen phenomenal growth and transformed hearts and minds by educating people about the complexity of addiction as an illness rather than a moral deficiency.”

Virginia announced that all citizens in the commonwealth can now obtain the drug Naloxone, used to treat overdoses in emergency situations. The standing order is a prescription written for the general public and was issued by Levine in partnership with Virginia’s Board of Pharmacy, Department of Health Professions and Department of Behavioral Health and Development Services.

By writing an open prescription to the general public, rather than an individual, Levine has made it easier for state residents to obtain Naloxone.

“Too many families across Virginia and the nation are dealing with heartbreak and loss as a result of the prescription opioid and heroin abuse epidemic,” McAuliffe said in a release. “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.”

State officials offer a few tips for those who suspect someone close to them might be struggling with addiction:

Know the signs of addiction and substance abuse such as constant money problems, dealing with arrests, track marks from needle use, lying about drug use and physical withdrawal symptoms.

Be sure to talk with your loved ones who might be struggling with addiction. The commonwealth has a new website on the best ways to discuss addiction at http://vaaware.com/treatment-recovery.

Properly dispose of medications once they are expired, unused or unwanted. Obtain Naloxone in case of an overdose emergency and learn more about opioid abuse by visiting www.dbhds.virginia.gov/individuals-and-families/substance-abuse/revive.

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