Top Health Official: Opioid Addiction Now Public Health Emergency in Va.

Posted: Updated: Dec 03, 2016 08:57 PM
file photo from NBC29 file photo from NBC29
Virginia Health Commissioner Dr. Marissa Levine Virginia Health Commissioner Dr. Marissa Levine
Delegate John O' Bannon (R) Delegate John O' Bannon (R)

A top medical official in Virginia is declaring opioid addiction a public health emergency. As a result, anyone in the state can buy the life-saving antidote for overdoses, without a prescription.

The health commissioner Dr. Marissa Levine says there's a crisis when it comes to death or serious injuries caused by heroin and prescription drug overdoses. Scientists in Virginia have also recently identified cases of powerful synthetics being laced in street drugs, worsening the situation.

"Our law enforcement partners have repeatedly claimed that we cannot arrest our way out of this problem. I've heard them loud and clear, and I agree," Levine said.

Each day on average, three Virginians die and two dozen patients are treated for drug overdoses.

"The consequences of opioid addiction in Virginia have risen to unprecedented levels, and can now be classified as epidemic,” Levine said.

Naloxone, the anti-dote that immediately reverses an overdose, will now be available at drug stores without a prescription. Levine implores anyone who has a family member, friend or neighbor struggling with addiction to be alert for warning signs and consider picking up this life-saving drug.

"We're all working to support families and communities as they help their family members, neighbors, and loved ones get the needed help to fight addiction," Levine said.

The Governor's Office and Republicans in the General Assembly have responded favorably to Levine's actions, saying more steps must be taken right away.

73rd District Delegate John O'Bannon (R), a doctor, says this epidemic is destroying families and communities.

"About six times a year, I have to sit down with a family and tell them that their loved one is brain-injured, or brain-dead because of this,” O’Bannon said.

Now there's a new dimension to the problem: state leaders say Fentanyl and Carfentanil, synthetic drugs strong enough to sedate large animals, have reached Virginia.

“We're not winning the battle, a lot more to do, but we'll be working on it this coming year in the General Assembly as well," O’Bannon said.

The health commissioner says if you'd like more information on resources, visit vaaware.com.

  • Sign Up for Email Alerts

    Sign up to receive news, weather, and breaking news emails from the NBC29 newsroom in your inbox daily.

    * denotes required fields

    Thank you for signing up! You will receive a confirmation email shortly.