Earlier today, the House of Delegates passed the final piece of Attorney General Mark R. Herring’s bipartisan package of heroin and prescription drug legislation, HB1500 to allow safe reporting of overdoses in progress, meaning that all four bills have now passed their chamber in the General Assembly.
Attorney General Herring and his office worked extensively with Republicans and Democrats in the House of Delegates and Virginia Senate to write and introduce the bills in response to a troubling statewide spike in heroin and prescription drug overdose fatalities.
“This is a huge step forward in addressing a crisis that has claimed at least 3,000 lives in Virginia in the last five years,” said Attorney General Herring. “Virginians should be proud that their elected leaders came together in a bipartisan way to save lives with evidenced-based strategies and tools. I truly appreciate the hard work of our legislative partners, including Del. O’Bannon, Del. Lingamfelter, Del. Carr, Del. Rust, Del. Miller, and Sen. Howell, the committee chairs that heard these bills, and most importantly, the parents and advocates who were brave enough to share the pain of their loss and advocate for these urgently needed measures.
“This is a public health and public safety problem that is crossing all demographic and geographic lines, and it’s a problem that calls for education, prevention, and treatment, as well as enforcement tools. We’re not going to solve this problem overnight, but with the legislature, Governor McAuliffe, and federal and local partners all in the fight, we’re moving in the right direction.”
The bills that have passed their chamber are:
Statewide Naloxone Expansion–Carr/O’Bannon (HB1458)
[Passed the House on Feb. 3, 2015] Naloxone is a prescription drug that counteracts the effects of a heroin or prescription opioid overdose. This bill expands the current naloxone pilot project to authorize naloxone use by any law enforcement agency in the Commonwealth. It also provides immunity to law enforcement who administer the drug. Similar authorization currently exists in 23 states. According to the Centers for Disease Control, naloxone successfully reversed more than 10,000 overdoses between 1996 and 2010.
Safe Reporting –Carr/O’Bannon/Rust (HB1500)
[Passed the House on Feb. 10, 2015 in a rare 100-0 vote] This bill will encourage reporting of overdoses in progress by establishing an affirmative defense for minor possession or intoxication crimes if a person reports an overdose, remains on the scene, and identifies themselves as the reporter. Safe reporting provisions currently exist in 21 other states and the District of Columbia.
Drug-induced Homicide–Miller (HB1638)
[Provisions requested by law enforcement were rolled into HB1427 and passed the House on Feb. 10, 2015by a 100-0 vote] This bill gives prosecutors a tool to hold drug dealers accountable when their drugs lead to an overdose death. Currently these cases are almost always taken to the federal level–including by cross-designated prosecutors from the Office of Attorney General–because Virginia law makes convictions very difficult.
Prescription Monitoring Program— Howell (SB817)
[Passed the Senate on Feb. 3, 2015] This bill will allow probation officers to access Virginia’s Prescription Monitoring Program to ensure their probationers are not getting opioid prescriptions they are not authorized to have.
According to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, heroin overdose fatalities in Virginia have more than doubled from 100 deaths in 2011 to 213 deaths in 2013, while an additional 468 Virginians died from prescription drug overdose in 2013. Between 2011 and 2013, every region of the state experienced an increase in heroin fatalities, including a 164% increase in Northern Virginia, a 94% increase in Hampton Roads, and a 50% increase in the Richmond metro area.
In September, Attorney General Herring announced a 5-part plan to address heroin and prescription drug fatalities. It included these legislative proposals, which were refined through extensive outreach and work with legislators, prosecutors, and law enforcement. The legislation has been endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, the Virginia Sheriffs’ Association, the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, and the Virginia Association of Commonwealth’s Attorneys.