Virginia is allowing anyone in the state to buy naloxone, an opioid overdose treatment drug also known as Narcan, without a prescription.
Health Commissioner Marissa Levine issued the order Monday allowing the change and declared the state's growing opioid addiction problem a public health emergency.
Some pharmacies in Virginia already provide naloxone without a prescription, but the decision ensures access to the opioid overdose antidote to everyone in the state.
"It just became clear that there were continued gaps, as well as increases in death, so we really need to do something," Levine said.
Levine's decision also comes in light of the recent discovery of carfentanil, a synthetic opioid used to sedate elephants, being used in Virginia. Levine said carfentanil, which is 10,000 times more potent than morphine, was found by authorities in two separate incidents.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe also announced that he stood by Levine's decision.
"Too many families across Virginia and the nation are dealing with heartbreak and loss as a result of prescription opioid and heroin abuse epidemic," said McAuliffe in a press release. "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 framework for further actions to fight it, and to save Virginian's lives."
Several other states have recently enacted similar laws and policies allowing pharmacies to sell naloxone without prescriptions.
The number of opioid-related fatal overdoses has been climbing steadily in recent years. There were 801 heroin and prescription drug deaths in Virginia last year, up from 541 in 2012.
At least three Virginians die of drug overdoses every day on average. The number of emergency department visits due to heroin overdose has increased 89 percent for the first months of this year compared to last year.
By the end of 2016, the numbers of fatal opioid overdose deaths are expected to increase by 77 percent, compared to five years ago.
Though Levine's public health emergency declaration has no force of law, she said she hopes it spurs a greater awareness of the state's opioid crisis during the holidays and beyond.