The White House Takes on the Heroin Epidemic

Stories about the wildfire-like spread of heroin-related deaths throughout U.S. states like Vermont and New Hampshire have filled the media in the last several years, with heart-breaking accounts from family members who watched helplessly as loved ones spiraled downward in addiction to death.

On Monday, the government announced the allocation of funding targeting those regions hardest hit by the epidemic of heroin and painkiller abuse, addiction and overdose. Michael Botticelli, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, in Washington, D.C., said that $13.4 million will go to funding High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA), a program begun in 1988 that coordinates federal, state and local authorities to identify and interrupt drug activity in high-trafficking areas of the country.

Of this money, $2.5 million is targeted to fight the new heroin threat with the united efforts of HIDTA programs in five regions: Appalachia, New England, Philadelphia/Camden, New York/New Jersey and Washington/Baltimore.

The Heroin Response Strategy

The partnership — called the Heroin Response Strategy — will draw upon public safety and public health expertise to fight the soaring epidemic of heroin and opiate addiction.

This money will support reporting of overdoses, alerts about dangerous batches of heroin, quick distribution of naloxone (a drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose) and dissemination of information to law enforcement, as well as training of local authorities on how to recognize and respond to heroin or opioid addiction and overdoses.

But is this enough to save addicts or prevent more people from becoming addicted?

In speaking to The New York Times, Manchester, New Hampshire mayor Ted Gatsas said the focus should be on getting addicts into treatment. “Anything that we do to fight this epidemic is a great thing,” Mr. Gatsas said, “but I don’t think we need coordinators. We need funding to make sure that people have the opportunity to get into rehab.”

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported a 236% increase in heroin-related overdose deaths between 2002 and 2013 — with the sharpest increase among people not generally associated with drug addiction: women, privately insured people and people with higher incomes.

The Challenge: Multiple Addictions

Those who use heroin are very likely to use one to three other drugs too, according to the CDC. And people who are addicted to opioid painkillers are 40 times more likely to also be addicted to heroin, and are also likely to mix drugs with alcohol, increasing the risk of overdose.

About $4 million of the funding announced by director Botticelli will support prevention programs in 18 regional HIDTA programs, and $1.3 million will fund five HIDTA programs in the Southwest to reduce the flow of drugs across the border. And nearly $500,000 will fund efforts to fight the threat of drugs on tribal lands through HIDTA in six states.

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