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The problem had become, and remains,

glaring. The community had witnessed

an unprecedented rise of deaths due to

heroin and opioid abuse from 2011-2014.

According to a newspaper account, 33

deaths were attributed to opioid overdoses

in Clarke, Frederick, Page, Shenandoah,

and Warren counties and the City of

Winchester alone in 2014. Statewide

statistics are likewise staggering, with

4,036 recorded opioid-related deaths in

the Commonwealth from 2007 to 2015,

according to Virginia Department of Health data. A meaningful

response was clearly needed to protect the public.

Following a May 2014 community heroin summit inWinchester,

the non-profit Northern Shenandoah Valley Substance Abuse

Coalition (NSVSAC) was formed with strong public and private

sector support to address this growing epidemic. NSVSAC is a

collaborative effort. It involves law enforcement, health care,

substance abuse treatment, youth advocacy organizations, and

families impacted by substance abuse and addiction. Winchester-

based Valley Health System has been one of the key funders of the

coalition, along with the Winchester City Council, the Frederick

County Board of Supervisors, and the Clarke County Board of

Supervisors. In May, the United Way of the Northern Virginia

ShenandoahValley presented NSVAC a $25,000 check to support the

treatment of participants in a local Drug Treatment Court program

that will begin in July.

In addition to community partners, health care providers are

intently focused on combating the devastation of this crisis. One

example of that effort is a successful webinar hosted by the Virginia

Hospital & Healthcare Association’s (VHHA) Virginia Hospital

Research & Education Foundation (VHREF). The webinar—

“The Addiction Crisis: A Community’s Response”—highlighted

NSVSAC’s work and other strategies for responding to the opioid

epidemic, and featured commentary from a range of state and local

officials with subject matter expertise. Approximately 600 people

participated in the webinar, which is now available for online


VHHA is also working with members and stakeholders to

address the opioid crisis. VHHA’s Board of Directors established

an opioid task force in January 2016, and charged it with

examining ways to reduce opioid abuse with a focus on emergency

room prescribing practices. The task force—which featured

representatives from VHHA-member organizations, the Virginia

College of Emergency Physicians, and the

Virginia Chapter of the American Academy

of Emergency Physicians—developed a set

of 14 recommendations to help guide Virginia

hospital emergency departments in setting

general standards for prescribing opioids.

Many Virginia hospitals and health systems

have already developed internal standards

that are complemented by these overarching


Beyond Virginia’s health care providers,

public officials at the local, state, and federal

levels have also responded to the problem. In

2014, Governor Terry McAuliffe formed the

Governor’s Task Force on Prescription Drug

and Heroin Abuse to improve public safety

and public health. Meanwhile, Attorney

General Mark Herring’s office spearheaded the powerful “Heroin:

The Hardest Hit” documentary about the opioid epidemic and its

effect on Virginians. Released in 2015, the documentary examines

the epidemic from several angles by featuring Virginians sharing

their own stories of addiction, testimony from parents who have lost

their children to opioid overdose, and insights from law enforcement

and public health officials working to tackle this challenge. Since its

premiere, the film has been viewed online more than 57,000 times.

Also, the Virginia General Assembly and members of Congress have

each worked to approve bipartisan legislation aimed at addressing

the opioid crisis.

Platforms like Drug Free Virginia and the “Sink or Swim”

campaign also play a critical role in combating opioid abuse by

providing tools and resources to build awareness of the dangers of

drug misuse. The campaign website features real-life testimonials,

drug facts, and information on how to dispose of drugs.

National chain pharmacies like Rite Aid, Kroger,Walgreens, and

CVS are also involved in anti-abuse efforts. Rite Aid has trained

more than 8,400 pharmacists on how to dispense naloxone, an opioid

overdose reversal drug, and currently dispenses the drug without a

prescription. Kroger, Walgreens, and CVS also dispense naloxone

without a prescription. In Virginia, Governor McAuliffe has teamed

up with CVS Health to underscore the availability of naloxone.

Starting this fall, more than 60 medical schools, 50 pharmacy

schools, and nearly 200 nursing schools will require students to take

some form of prescriber education to graduate. Virginia schools that

have signed onto this initiative include Hampton University, James

Madison University, Old Dominion University, Radford University,

and Virginia Commonwealth University.

As with any evolving health challenge, collaboration is critical

to success. Hospitals will continue to partner with community and

government allies, continue to serve the public, and continue to

innovate in pursuit of solutions. It is encouraging to see the public

and private sectors step forward in response to this crisis. Investing

in reducing barriers to treatment for substance abuse disorders will

help enable healthcare providers, including Virginia’s hospitals and

health systems, to combat this epidemic.

The numbers are staggering. The magnitude of the problem is

distressing. Lives are at stake. Together, we can combat this crisis.

A veteran health care leader, Tracey A. van Marcke is Executive

Director of the Virginia Hospital Research & Education

Foundation, a nonprofit subsidiary of the Virginia Hospital &

Healthcare Association that is focused on improving the health

of Virginia through collaboration, research and education for

Virginia’s hospitals and health systems.

Legislative Counsel

John G. “Chip” Dicks

FutureLaw, LLC

1802 Bayberry Court, Suite 403

Richmond, Virginia 23226

(804) 225-5507 (Direct Dial)

(804) 225-5508 (Fax)

Opioid Crisis Inspires Community,

Health Care, Government Collaboration

By Tracey A. van Marcke