America's heroin problem has reached epidemic levels: a 63 percent increase in heroin use from 2002 to 2013 and almost quadruple the number of related deaths in that same time.
In response to this worrying epidemic, the White House announced on Monday a $2.5 million plan that will combine public health with law enforcement to combat escalating heroin use and deaths.
For the first time ever, the fight against heroin will emphasize treatment over punishment for addicts.
Citing two senior officials, the Washington Post reported that the program will connect drug intelligence officers with public health coordinators as they trace the drug's source, how and where a deadly opiate additive is added (blamed for the recent rise of fatal overdoses), and who is distributing it to the dealers.
Initially funded for a year, the program will cover 15 states from New England to the D.C. area, where some of the highest numbers of heroin use and deaths are.
Under this new initiative, data on overdoses and trafficking will be collected and delivered faster to local law enforcement, the Post reported. The plan also includes training for first responders on how and when to use medication to reverse overdoses.
There are other national initiatives to combat the heroin epidemic, too.
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Twenty-six states have passed overdose-prevention bills that allow officials to administer naloxone, a medication that counters the effects of a heroin overdose.
Earlier this year, the Obama administration propose $133 million to curb the overprescription of opioid painkillers, drugs proven to be the primary gateway to heroin use. (Meanwhile, the Federal Drug Administration just approved oxycontin, a powerful prescription painkiller, for 11 year olds.)
Though the White House's $2.5 million budget for this new initiative might not seem like much, its pairing of public health and law enforcement is crucial in "both reducing crime and reducing the number of people who end up in emergency rooms," the Post reported.
An enforcement official told the newspaper:
Heroin is killing people. And too often, public health goes one way and law enforcement goes the other. Often, grants create silos in government. This program is designed not to create any new agency but to bring people together to break out of those silos.
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