By Jill Drachenberg, Managing Editor, AHC Media

Facing an unprecedented number of opioid-related overdoses, the health commissioner of Virginia declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency and granted standing naloxone prescriptions for all the state’s residents.

Health Commissioner Marissa J. Levine gave the order amid reports that heroin overdose ED visits are up 89% from this time last year. Three people die and two dozen receive treatment for overdoses every day in the state, according to Levine. There also is increased abuse of carfentanil, an elephant tranquilizer that is 100 times more potent than fentanyl and 10,000 times more powerful than heroin.

“As we see the nature of drug addiction shift, from prescription opioids to heroin and synthetic fentanyl, we must be vigilant and ready to respond quickly,” Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources Bill Hazel said in a statement. “The overdose rates in Virginia have led me to agree with Dr. Levine that we are indeed experiencing a public health emergency. This declaration helps us respond in a nimble way to a rapidly changing threat, while the naloxone standing order from Dr. Levine broadens our ability to get life-saving medication into Virginians’ hands.”

In addition to the emergency declaration, Virginia officials launched a website, VaAware.com, with information for families, physicians, and law enforcement on the opioid epidemic and resources for addiction treatment and pain management. The website is a collaboration between the Virginia Department of Health, Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, Department of Criminal Justice Services, and Department of Health Professions.

For more information on the opioid epidemic, treatment options, and policies, see The Opioid Epidemic: New Policies, Treatments, and Non-Opioid Alternatives.