For the first time ever the White House is paying attention to the fact that heroin addiction is more than just a crime, it is also a disease. The White House’s initiative will for the first time, according to the Washington Post, “pair public health and law enforcement in an effort to shift the emphasis from punishment to the treatment of addicts.”
The Heroin Response Strategy
Announced as a Heroin Response Strategy, the 2.5 million, one year experiment, will establish public health-public safety partnerships in 15 states across the East Coast from Appalachia to New England. The initiative will “pair drug intelligence officers with public health coordinators to trace where heroin is coming from, how and where it is being laced with a deadly additive and who is distributing it to street level dealers,” according to the Post.
The 2.5 million for the program is only one component of a 13.4 million dollar effort by the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program to address the heroin epidemic rolling across the nation.
Heroin use has more than doubled among young adults in the past decade and overdose deaths have almost quadrupled since 2002, according to the CDC. The surge has been linked to a crack down on prescription pain medication given out at pill mills.
A Modest Effort is Better Than No Effort At All
The Obama Administration isn’t pouring an astonishing sum of money into the new initiative. As it is right now, the program is actually quite modest. It will entail hiring 15 drug intelligence officers, 15 health policy analysts who will coordinate in tracking the flow of heroin on the streets and overdose data across the states they’ve been assigned to, according to the Post. But the biggest part of the initiative lies not in size but in the philosophy behind it.
Those healthy policy analysts will, among other things, provide instruction to first responders on how to spot and treat heroin overdoses.
A Changing Outlook on Heroin Abuse Treatment
The decision to treat the drug epidemic as a health crisis is a huge step. It is a representation of the changing outlook that has been encouraged by heroin overdoses in various states across the US.
Kentucky, for instance, passed legislation designed to make state law more merciful towards heroin users. The law created a clean need exchange program, freed people who overdose from being charged with a crime, and expanded access to naloxone, a rescue drug for counteracting heroin overdose. Kentucky is one of dozens of states that have passed laws intended to prioritize health threats instead of the criminal aspects.
Desperation can help forge some rather unusual alliances. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — the closest thing to an archnemesis for Obama in the Senate — praised the new program Monday.
“This is a positive development for Kentucky’s efforts to fight the use of heroin that is hitting the Commonwealth particularly hard,” he said in a statement. “We must use federal resources to combat this epidemic in the most efficient and effective way possible, and I look forward to our continued efforts.”
Hopefully addressing the major heroin problem in the U.S. continues to be highlighted by public officials as a problem that MUST be solved, and quickly.