About Opioid Misuse

The goal of the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) Injury and Violence Prevention Program: Prescription Drug Overdose Prevention Program is to reduce drug related poisoning deaths throughout the life span through a primary prevention approach.


Taking someone else’s prescription medication, taking a prescription in a manner that was not as prescribed, or taking a medication for reasons other than prescribed all constitute nonmedical use of prescription drugs.  Using a medication in ways other than prescribed can potentially lead to a variety of adverse health effects, including overdose and addiction.  Over the past several years, Virginia has experienced a substantial increase in drug related overdose and deaths resulting from misuse and abuse, replicating national trends.

The complex and changing nature of the opioid overdose epidemic highlights the need for an interdisciplinary, comprehensive, and cohesive public health approach. Recognizing that a multi-sector partnership among those who have shared authority over prescription drug overdose (PDO) was needed for sustainable “upstream” impact, Virginia began a collaborative approach as early as 2012. From 2012-2013, Virginia participated in the National Governors Association’s (NGA) Prescription Drug Abuse Reduction Policy Academy. NGA staff worked with teams of senior-level policymakers in Virginia to develop a comprehensive and Virginia Department of Health (VDH) coordinated strategy to address PDO in Virginia. Since 2014, the Virginia General Assembly passed several bills directly related to strategy recommendations.

A recommendation for a statewide task force was implemented in 2014 when Virginia Governor McAuliffe signed Executive Order 29, creating the Governor’s Task Force on Prescription Drug and Heroin Abuse. Co-chaired by William Hazel, Jr., M.D., Secretary of Health and Human Resources, and Brian Moran, Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security, the Task Force has a multidisciplinary, bi-partisan composition. The Task Force had five workgroups covering public health and public safety sectors: Education, Treatment, Data and Monitoring, Storage and Disposal and Enforcement. In 2015, Virginia released its implementation plan outlining its strategies in support of public health and public safety sectors.

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) continued efforts throughout 2018 to counteract the opioid addiction epidemic and resulting adverse public health effects, such as the increased number of blood borne pathogen infections, overdoses requiring emergency care, as well as deaths.  The Declaration of a Public Health Emergency initiated on November 21, 2016 remains in effect. State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA issued a new statewide standing order for Naloxone on April 13, 2018.

Established in 2017, VDH continued its coordination of the interagency Incident Management Team (IMT) throughout 2018.  The IMT was created in response to the addiction public health emergency, and focuses on efforts to combating the addiction emergency in partnership with local, regional, state and federal agencies. The primary goals of the IMT are to prevent injury and death from addiction, prevent and reduce infectious disease related to addiction, prevent and reduce addiction, and use data to monitor and evaluate the addiction epidemic.

VDH also remained active on the Governor’s Executive Leadership Team on Opioids and Addiction in 2018. This team is composed of executive branch agency leadership and meets frequently to coordinate the inter-agency response and provide leadership and guidance. A stakeholder advisory group, established as the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Opioids and Addiction, supplements the work of the Executive Leadership Team.

Governor McAuliffe: Executive Order 29: Establishment of a Governor’s Task Force on Prescription Drug and Heroin Abuse


Recommendations of the Governor’s Task Force on Prescription Drug and Heroin Abuse Implementation


Ongoing Agency Response

VDH has committed an agency-wide response to address the opioid addiction epidemic and resulting adverse public health effects, including efforts spearheaded by the Injury and Violence Prevention Program.For more information regarding VDH’s agency response, visit: http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/commissioner/opioid-addiction-in-virginia/