The Health and Human Resources Sub-Panel of the Governor’s Secure Commonwealth Initiative met in Henrico County on April 7. Among other briefings, a major topic of discussion was the state’s response to the opioid epidemic. The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) has convened a task force with a three-part response to the epidemic: preventing new cases of addiction through such methods as reducing the number of prescriptions written for opioids; screening and treating new cases, such as babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome; and reducing harm involved with drug use, through methods such as improving access to naloxone and testing for diseases associated with injected drug use, such as Hepatitis C.
In addition, the 2017 General Assembly authorized the Commissioner of Health to create local or regional harm reduction programs that may include syringe exchange programs under certain circumstances.
A helpful reference for localities is the Virginia Opioid Addiction Indicators dashboard, which displays data on overdose deaths, administration of naloxone, and reported cases of HIV and Hepatitis C by locality, health district, or Virginia State Police Region, among other categories. The dashboard is available on the VDH website.
VDH staff also briefed attendees on preparations underway to respond to the Zika virus. An outreach campaign is underway to encourage members of the public to “tip, toss, and cover” – tip and empty containers of standing water and toss out items such as old tires to eliminate areas for Zika-carrying mosquitoes to breed, and cover exposed skin when outside; using mosquito repellent is also encouraged. VDH is working to contract with mosquito control vendors to supplement local mosquito control efforts in case Virginia experiences local transmission of the virus. Materials about Zika may be found at www.zikava.org.
VDH staff also provided an overview of the main federal grants that provide public health emergency preparedness funding in Virginia, the Hospital Preparedness Program and the Public Health Emergency Preparedness Program. These grants fund a variety of emergency preparedness activities, such as tabletop exercises and the purchase of protective equipment for first responders. The State Health Commissioner, Dr. Marissa Levine, noted that Virginia has used this funding to build a strong capacity to respond to emergencies, but cautioned that this response system is dependent upon federal funds and is vulnerable to potential reductions in federal spending.
VACo Contact: Katie Boyle