Virginia Hospital Research & Education Foundation Hosts Opioid Epidemic Lecture and Panel Discussion

September 27, 2017

Keynote address delivered by nationally-renowned author Sam Quinones, followed by a panel discussion highlighting response efforts by the medical, law enforcement, and legislative communities.

RICHMOND, VA – Combating the opioid crisis requires collaboration from health care professionals, public officials, law enforcement, and many other stakeholders. Across the nation, and in Virginia, opioid abuse and misuse is having serious and fatal consequences. As an example, the Commonwealth has seen nearly 7,000 deaths attributable to opioids since 2007. The Virginia Hospital Research & Education Foundation (VHREF) last night (Sept. 26, 2017) hosted a free public event featuring a renowned author, elected leaders, law enforcement personnel, members of the health care community, and others for a lecture and panel discussion on responding to the opioid epidemic. “The Opioid Entanglement: A National Perspective on the Commonwealth’s Crisis” program held Tuesday evening on the VCU Health System Medical Campus featured a keynote lecture by Sam Quinones, critically-acclaimed author of the 2015 book “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic.” The event attracted an audience of roughly 350 people.

Following Quinones’ remarks was a panel discussion moderated by Dr. Nicolas C. Restrepo, Vice President of Medical Affairs at Valley Health System’s Winchester Medical Center. Other panelists included Dr. A. Omar Abubaker, Professor and S. Elmer Bear Chair of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at the VCU School of Dentistry; Dr. Heidi Best, Emergency Department Medical Director at Sentara Princess Anne Hospital; the Honorable Dr. William A. Hazel Jr., Virginia Health and Human Resources Secretary; Dr. Lora Peppard, Associate Professor at George Mason University and Project Director for the Virginia SBIRT; Captain Timothy P. Ring, Division Commander for the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Richmond Field Office, with the Virginia State Police; and the Honorable Bryce Reeves of the Virginia Senate.

Mary N. Mannix, President and CEO of Augusta Health and Chair of VHREF’s Board of Directors, and the Honorable Brian J. Moran, Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security, provided opening remarks.

“The opioid epidemic is a public health crisis that negatively impacts our communities, our schools, and our families. In 2016 alone, emergency first responders in Virginia administered more than 4,000 doses of Naloxone, and the number of fatal overdoses rose by 40 percent,” Mannix said. “Heroin, heroin synthetics, and prescription painkillers are leaving their mark on the Commonwealth. In Virginia, the health care community has worked to curb growth in prescription drug abuse through the creation of prescribing guidelines in emergency departments, and regulations in physician offices. The goal of these measures is to decrease the number of patients who abuse or develop an addiction to opioids, and to serve as a barrier to over-prescribing by practitioners.”

Multi-disciplinary stakeholders have joined together in recent years to respond to the opioid epidemic. Health care providers have developed new procedures and protocols, lawmakers have updated appropriate Virginia statutes, and law enforcement agencies and officials are on the front lines responding to this public health challenge. This week’s opioid forum hosted by VHREF is one example of the ongoing engagement, cooperation, public outreach, and awareness efforts advanced by the coalition of groups, organizations, and stakeholders engaged on this issue.

“Bringing together experts from the public and private sector whose work intersects in response to the opioid crisis is an important part of the collaborative process required to address this epidemic,” said Tracey A. van Marcke, VHREF Chief Executive Officer. “We are pleased to facilitate this program as part of the ongoing education work supported by VHREF to help inform audiences about important public health issues.”

Quinones, the acclaimed author of “Dreamland,” noted that shining a light on the opioid crisis through events such as Tuesday’s forum is an important function in the campaign to curb opioid misuse.

“This epidemic spread because of silence, because people were not talking about it, not recognizing it, wanting to hide it, fabricating obituaries,” said Quinones. “Seems to me the only way to address it and combat it is to recognize that it is everywhere in the country.”

The Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association (VHHA) broadcast the panel discussion segment of last night’s event as a Facebook livestream. A recording of the panel discussion can be viewed here. “The Opioid Entanglement: A National Perspective on the Commonwealth’s Crisis” program was funded in part with support from the Virginia Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) grant from SAMHSA. The grant supports the management of risky and problematic substance use, and is a collaboration between the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services and George Mason University. Additional program sponsors include Kaléo Pharmaceuticals, the McShin Foundation, Cordant Health Solutions, VHHA Shared Services, Inova, Valley Health, and VCU Health.

About VHHA: The Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association is an alliance of 111 hospitals and 29 health delivery systems that develops and advocates for sound health care policy in the Commonwealth. Its vision is to achieve excellence in both health care and health. Its vision is through the power of collaboration to be recognized as a driving force behind making Virginia the healthiest state in the nation. Connect with VHHA through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, and

Download the press release here.

Julian Walker
Vice President of Communications
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