Officials declare health emergency for opioid addiction in Virginia

FILE - Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam discusses Virginia's opioid crisis with WAVY-TV 10 at Children's Hospital of the King's Daughter in Norfolk on Monday, Nov. 21, 2016. (WAVY File Photo)

RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — Officials on Monday declared a public health emergency in the Commonwealth of Virginia for the opioid addiction crisis.

A news release from Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s office Monday stated that the declaration was made in response to a “growing number of overdoses attributed to opioid use.”

AG Herring addresses Hampton Roads leaders on heroin abuse

Officials say there is also evidence that a highly dangerous synthetic opioid called Carfentanil, which is used to sedate large animals including elephants, has made its way into the state.

Virginia Health Commissioner Dr. Marissa J. Levine issued a standing order along with the declaration, to allow Virginians access to the drug Naloxone.

Levine stated in Monday’s news release, “Too many Virginia families have lost someone to opioid addiction. These actions today will not diminish their loss, but we owe it to them and each other to work together, watch out for each other and continue to combat the seriousness of this crisis.”

Special Report: A deadly epidemic sweeping Hampton Roads

Officials say that by the end of 2016, the number of opioid overdoses in Virginia is expected to increase by 77 percent compared to five years ago. More people died from opioid overdoses than car crashes in 2014.

Attorney General Mark Herring in February announced a multi-faceted initiative to tackle the heroin crisis in Hampton Roads. The heroin crisis has affected many families in this region alone.

Herring estimated in February that local, state and federal partners had prosecuted more than 28 cases against dealers and traffickers in Hampton Roads during a year and a half period.

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam addressed the declaration at Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in Norfolk Monday afternoon.

“There have been, believe it or not, over 800 deaths from opioid addiction and overdose,” Northam said, noting that the number could rise to over 1,000 before the end of the year.

The Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association issued a statement Monday on the emergency declaration. The Association called the crisis “a serious challenge,” and called Levine’s declaration”an important and appropriate step.”

Their statement reads, in part:

In response, Virginia’s community hospitals and health systems continue to partner with state government, elected leaders, and the health care community in the fight against the deadly effects of opioid abuse. The Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association’s Board of Directors this year called for the development of emergency department opioid prescribing guidelines that have been distributed in hospitals throughout the Commonwealth. The Association has worked with Governor Terry McAuliffe’s Task Force on Prescription Drug and Heroin Abuse. VHHA also supported bi-partisan legislation focused on curbing opioid abuse, and state funding for substance use disorder treatment services for Medicaid beneficiaries.

In addition to those steps, local Virginia hospitals have worked collaboratively with law enforcement, community partners, and other stakeholders to bring planning, resources, and action to the fight against opioid abuse. Public health emergencies such as the opioid epidemic pose a direct threat to public well-being. In these situations, Virginia’s hospitals and health systems are engaged in ways to serve the public good through health care delivery.