Opioid epidemic declared public health emergency in Virginia

ROANOKE (WSLS 10) - The opioid epidemic in Virginia is now considered a public health emergency.

State health commissioner Marissa Levine made the announcement on Monday.

Levine also issued a state order declaring that anyone can get the drug naloxone without a prescription at a Virginia pharmacy. Naloxone is used to reverse an opioid overdose.

On average, three Virginians die every day from an overdose, and about 25 are treated in emergency rooms. The death toll is up 77 percent from 2011.

"I think there's just a tremendous amount of denial among our public that the opiate addiction is as bad as it is, that it's as common as it is," said Carilion's Emergency Medicine Department chairman John Burton.

Many health experts said addiction should be seen more as a medical problem requiring long-term treatment, rather than simply a criminal justice issue.