For Immediate Release: February 26, 2018
Contacts: Office of the Governor: Ofirah Yheskel, | Virginia Department of Health: Maribeth Brewster, | Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services: Heidi Dix,

Governor Northam Announces Virginia Selected for National Governor’s Association Project To Combat Opioid Crisis

~Virginia will study Kentucky’s efforts to address increased risk of infectious diseases~


RICHMOND – Governor Ralph Northam today announced that the National Governor’s Association (NGA) selected Virginia to participate in a learning lab on state strategies for addressing infectious diseases related to substance use. This learning lab is an opportunity for state officials to receive technical assistance in developing and implementing a strategic action plan for reducing the incidence of infectious diseases related to substance use disorder (SUD), including opioid use disorder.

“The opioid epidemic continues to take a devastating toll on Virginia’s communities,” said Governor Northam. “As a physician myself, I know that to combat this public health crisis, we must approach it from every angle, including finding better ways to reduce the harm from infectious diseases. I appreciate the opportunity from the NGA for Virginia to learn collaboratively, and I look forward to hearing what our officials learn from other states and how we can implement those findings in the Commonwealth.”

Virginia will be one of seven states traveling to Kentucky to learn about how that state is addressing the increased risk of infectious diseases through public health surveillance and community prevention efforts. Following the kick-off meeting in Kentucky, states will receive six months of technical assistance from NGA.

“If Virginia is to be successful in combating the Commonwealth’s opioid epidemic, our solutions must target all direct and indirect elements of this crisis, including infectious diseases,” said Dr. Daniel Carey, Secretary of Health and Human Resources. “Public health is a collaborative effort, and I’m looking forward to learning from Kentucky’s success.”

In November 2016, State Health Commissioner Marissa J. Levine, MD, MPH, FAAFP, declared the Virginia opioid addiction crisis a Public Health Emergency. The declaration largely came in response to the growing number of overdoses attributed to opioid use. In addition to the alarming trends of overdose deaths, infectious disease consequences such as hepatitis C and HIV are serious health outcomes that also need to be addressed. Injection drug use is the primary risk factor for hepatitis C transmission in the United States. In 2017, more than 10,000 cases of chronic hepatitis C were reported in Virginia. 

“As we have found in every emergency, the better prepared and informed we are, the more likely that we will minimize the risk of the emergency and prevent suffering,” said State Health Commissioner Levine. “In the process we build stronger connections with each other, as well as healthier and more resilient communities. This unique opportunity will allow us to learn from other public health officials as we work to protect the health and promote the well-being of all people in Virginia.”

This learning lab will highlight Kentucky, which has undertaken significant efforts to improve SUD and infectious diseases surveillance, as well as community-based prevention services such as syringe exchanges, naloxone distribution, testing and treatment for infectious diseases and provision of or referral to SUD and mental health treatment services. 

“The infectious disease consequences of addiction in terms of poor health, death, and costs extend well beyond the more publicized overdoses, fractured lives and social networks,” said Jack Barber, MD, Interim Commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services. “Without effective prevention and treatment strategies, infectious diseases can make recovery from addiction almost impossible.”

Find more information on opioid addiction in Virginia here.