Operation Free Virginia

Defeating Fentanyl in the Commonwealth

About Operation Free Virginia

In May 2023, Governor Glenn Youngkin signed Executive Order 26 to defeat the Fentanyl crisis in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is approximately fifty times more potent than heroin and one hundred times stronger than morphine.

Fentanyl poisoning has devastated families and communities across the nation and in Virginia. The number of fentanyl overdose deaths in the Commonwealth has grown over 20-fold since 2013, with 1,951 Virginians killed by fentanyl in 2022. Since 2020, more Virginians have died from fatal drug overdoses than motor vehicle and gun-related deaths combined. Drug overdose is the leading cause of unnatural death in Virginia.

The scope of the problem has not only grown over the past decade, but the communities hit hardest have also changed. Historically, white males regularly had the highest rates of fatal opioid overdoses in Virginia. In 2019, however, black males had the highest rate of fatal opioid overdoses in the Commonwealth. From the latest available data, in 2022 black males fatally overdosed on fentanyl 1.9 times as often as white males (rate of 60.4 and 31.4 per 100,000, respectively).

Fentanyl poisoning is an epidemic and we recognize that awareness is one of our greatest tools to fight the opioid public health crisis. Fentanyl is often used as an additive or substitute to other drugs unknowingly by users, increasing the risk of fatal overdose. It is the leading cause of drug overdose deaths, almost all of which is being illegally smuggled into the United States.

Naloxone (Narcan) is a life-saving medicine in the form of a nasal spray that can revive the person who has overdosed on opioids and allow emergency personnel time to respond. The Commonwealth, along with local health departments and community organizations, has been implementing harm reduction strategies such as naloxone distribution programs to reverse opioid overdoses and increase access to substance use disorder treatment services.

Additional Resources

Many Virginia families have suffered the loss of loved ones due to fentanyl poisoning and have gathered together to build resiliency and educate others about the dangers of this crisis. As part of Operation FREE Virginia, VDEM is doing its part by educating and training our communities, local emergency managers and first responders. Follow us on our social media platforms to stay updated on our response to this crisis as well as clicking on the resources at the bottom of this page.

Governor Glenn Youngkin has declared that May 9, 2024, will be  FENTANYL AWARENESS DAY  in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

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