Virginia governor signs bills aimed at stemming opioid epidemic

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, speaks during a news conference at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. McAuliffe detailed his ethics reform legislative package. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) – Gov. Terry McAuliffe has signed a set of bills that aim to stem Virginia’s growing opioid epidemic.

McAuliffe’s office said in a statement Thursday that among the measures he signed into law is one allowing community organizations to possess and dispense naloxone, an overdose reversal drug.

Another measure mandates that all opioid prescriptions be transmitted to pharmacies electronically by 2020.

The statement says that while final numbers aren’t yet available, the Virginia Department of Health projects that more than 1,000 people died from opioid overdoses in 2016. If those projections hold, it would mark a 33 percent increase in the number of overdoses compared with 2015.

The state health commissioner declared the issue a public health crisis in November.


The following is a press release from the governor’s office:

Governor Terry McAuliffe today signed several bills that will help fight the epidemic of opioid abuse and overdose.

“Abuse of opioids continues to kill Virginians,” said Governor McAuliffe. “We recognize that addiction is a disease, not a moral failing, and our proposals for this General Assembly session focused on preventing addiction and providing treatment for those who suffer from it. While our overdose death statistics, sadly, continue to rise, each number represents a family that is suffering. We will use every tool we can get to continue this fight.”

Although final numbers are not yet available, the Virginia Department of Health projects that more than 1,000 people died from fatal opioid overdoses in 2016. If those projections hold, 2016 will have seen a 33 percent increase in the number of fatal opioid overdoses compared to 2015.

“Opioids and prescription drugs are extremely addictive and make recovery very challenging,” said Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam. “We must continue to emphasize addiction prevention. I commend the Governor’s administration and General Assembly leaders for working together in a bipartisan manner to expand the state’s prevention efforts and to increase access to substance abuse treatment.”

“This is a real ‘all hands on deck’ moment,” said Attorney General Mark Herring. “The heroin and opioid crisis is touching families who never imagined they would confront something like this, and yet now are fighting something that feels so overwhelming. These bills are a big step in the right direction, and I’m really proud that our response recognizes that this is a complex, multifaceted problem that calls for a comprehensive set of solutions.”

“Getting this legislation approved has taken the work of legislators from both parties and many stakeholders,” said Secretary of Health and Human Resources Dr. Bill Hazel. “This work is proof the opioid epidemic is not a partisan issue, but a public health emergency.”

Legislation proposed this session focused on helping people toward recovery, and helping doctors implement better prescribing practices.

Since 2014, when he established the Governor’s Task Force on Prescription Drug and Heroin Abuse, Governor McAuliffe has been committed to finding solutions to the opioid epidemic.

In addition to the legislation, Governor McAuliffe is in the process of reviewing new Board of Medicine regulations on prescribing opioids to treat both acute and chronic pain. Importantly, these new regulations will require that when a person with addiction is prescribed buprenorphine to help assist their recovery, they also get the counseling critical to providing a long-term path to a sober life.

Governor McAuliffe signed the following bills:

  • SB848 (Wexton) and HB1453 (LaRock) allow community organizations to possess and dispense naloxone to those that they train to use it.
  • HB2317 (O’Bannon) allows local departments of health to administer harm reduction programs in parts of the state with very high rates of HIV and Hep C. These programs will exchange dirty syringes for clean ones, offer testing for Hep C and HIV, and connect people to addiction treatment.
  • HB1786 (Stolle) initiates a family assessment and plan of care from local social services if a child is found to have been exposed to substances in utero. This connects the mother to treatment if necessary and provides services to ensure the safety of both the mother and the child.
  • HB2165 (Pillion) mandates that all opioid prescriptions will be transmitted to pharmacies electronically by 2020 and creates a workgroup to study how to implement this change.

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