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A public health emergency was declared in Virginia by the state’s top health official as deaths from opioid overdoses rise.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe made the announcement on behalf of State Health Commissioner Marissa Levine.

“Too many families across Virginia and the nation are dealing with heartbreak and loss as a result of prescription opioid and heroin abuse epidemic,” he said. “We cannot stand by while these drugs harm our communities and our economy.

“That is why I support Dr. Levine’s decision to declare a public health emergency, to heighten awareness of this issue, provide a framework for further actions to fight it, and to save Virginians’ lives.”

Opioid overdoses from heroin and drugs such as prescription painkillers accounted for 940 deaths in Virginia in 2014, up 14.7 percent from 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More Virginians died in 2014 from opioid overdoses than fatal car accidents, McAuliffe’s office said. By the end of 2016, the number of fatal overdoses are expected to increase by 77 percent from five years ago.

In addition to the growing number of overdoses from opioid use, Levine announced that Carfentanil, a synthetic opioid used to sedate large animals such as elephants, also has become a problem in Virginia.

Levine announced that all Virginians can obtain the drug Naxolone, which is used to treat narcotic overdoses in emergency situations. The drug blocks the effects of opioids during an overdose.

Opioids are the top drug for overdoses in the nation. Opioids were involved in 28,647 deaths in 2014 and overdoses have quadrupled since 2000, the CDC says.

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