RICHMOND – Capping off a signature issue of the 2017 legislative session, Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed five bills Thursday to help arm the fight against opioid abuse and fatal overdoses in Virginia.
The bills address the crisis in various ways. They include SB 848 and HB 1453, which allow community organizations to dispense and train individuals to use naloxone, a drug that can treat an opioid overdose in emergency situations.
"We recognize that addiction is a disease, not a moral failing," McAuliffe said. "Our proposals for this General Assembly session focused on preventing addiction and providing treatment for those who suffer from it."
The governor also signed HB 2165, which will mandate all opioid prescriptions be transmitted to pharmacies electronically by 2020. It will also create a work group to study how to best implement the change.
"The fight against the national opioid abuse epidemic gained more momentum today as Virginia became the most recent state to mandate that care providers use electronic prescribing for controlled substances," said Dr. Sean Kelly, who is a practicing emergency physician and the chief medical officer of Imprivata, a health care information technology company.
Kelly said that electronic prescribing for controlled substances, or EPCS, helps the health care industry to reduce prescription fraud, drug diversion and drug abuse. Virginia is joining three other states – New York, Minnesota and Maine – in mandating EPCS.
"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."
In November 2016, McAuliffe joined State Health Commissioner Marissa Levine in declaring the Virginia opioid addiction crisis to be a public health emergency.
Although final numbers are not available, the Virginia Department of Health projects that more than 1,000 people died in Virginia from fatal opioid overdoses in 2016. That would be a 33 percent increase from the previous year.
Here are more details on the bills McAuliffe signed into law:
•SB 848, sponsored by Sen. Jennifer Wexton, D-Loudoun, and HB 1453, by Del. David LaRock, R-Loudoun, allow community organizations to possess and dispense naloxone to people whom the groups have trained to administer the life-saving drug.
•HB 2317, by Del. John O'Bannon, R-Henrico, allows local health departments to administer harm reduction programs in parts of the state with high rates of HIV and hepatitis. These programs will exchange dirty syringes for clean ones, offer testing for hepatitis C and HIV, and connect people to addiction treatment.
•HB 1786, by Del. Chris Stolle, R-Virginia Beach, 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.
•HB 2165, by Del. Todd Pillion, R-Washington, mandates that all opioid prescriptions will be transmitted to pharmacies electronically by 2020 and creates a work group to study how to implement this policy.