Obama Administration Cites Heroin Concerns After Hoffman Death

Drug czar lays out public-health focused response

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Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Drugs are prepared to shoot intravenously by a user addicted to heroin on Feb. 6, 2014 in St. Johnsbury, Vermont.

The Obama administration’s drug czar acknowledged Tuesday a growing problem with opioids like heroin and prescription painkillers and the need for a coordinated public health response, just over a week after Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died of an apparent heroin overdose.

Cautioning against a solution too heavily weighted toward law enforcement, R. Gil Kerlikowske, who heads the Office of National Drug Control Policy, called for a more public-health centered approach. The administration’s plan includes reducing the availability of prescription drugs through take back programs to get drugs out of homes, and reducing deaths by treating addiction and overdose more effectively.

“We cannot arrest our way out of the drug problem,” Kerlikowske told reporters on a conference call. “Drug addiction is a disease of the brain—a disease that can be prevented, treated, and from which one can recover.”

While the use of prescription painkillers has remained relatively stable over the past few years, the number of overdose deaths from opioids increased by 21 percent from 2006 to 2010. There are now more deaths by drug overdose—mostly driven by prescription painkillers, Kerlikowske said—than from homicides or traffic crashes. In 2010, roughly 100 Americans died from overdose every day and more than forty percent of the deaths that year, roughly 16,600, involved prescription painkillers. Heroin was involved in roughly 3,000 deaths.

Hoffman’s death earlier this month, which coincided with a string of some 50 deaths in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Maryland from heroin laced with the painkiller fentanyl, put a spotlight on the uptick in heroin use, from 373,000 past-year users in 2007 to 669,000 in 2012. The demographics of heroin have also changed, moving beyond poor urban areas into rural and suburban communities. Law enforcement officials attribute some of the spike in heroin use to increased availability and cheaper prices, thanks to more heroin supplied by Latin American cartels coming over the southwest border.

But the administration attempted to refocus concern on broader opioid use on Tuesday. “It is impossible understand heroin problem without nature of prescription drug abuse epidemic,” Kerlikowske said.

The first prong of the administration’s proposed response is to reduce the availability of prescription drugs by utilizing take-back programs that get unused prescription pills out of medicine cabinets and by cracking down on things like doctor shopping, in which users seek out doctors who will give out prescriptions. The Drug Enforcement Administration has declared April 26 National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, when people can return unused prescription pills to law enforcement. Forty-one percent of chronic abusers of painkillers got them from a friend or a family member for free or without asking, according to the most recent study from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The second prong looks at using various available drug therapies to treat addiction and prevent overdose death. The administration encourages local law enforcement around the country to carry naloxone, a drug, delivered nasally, that can prevent overdose. Thanks in part to funding from the administration’s drug police office, a precinct in New York City is carrying Naloxone as part of a pilot program, which the administration said allowed an officer to save a life two weeks ago in Staten Island. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh will soon equip city firefighters and police officers with the drug, Kerlikowske said.

Drugs like buprenorphine and methadone, which bind to the same receptors in the brain as heroin but reduce cravings, can also play an important role in treating addiction, said Dr. Wilson Compton, deputy director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

8 comments
DavidBecker
DavidBecker

Problems in heroin wont be fixed until you deal with opioid problems and opioid problems wont be fixed until yo require doctors to have education in pain care- but government would rather the problems with heorin continue rather than win the disfavor of medicine by requiring them to have education in pain care.

gomerwumphf
gomerwumphf

Why not let cops, DEA, etc. file class actions against users for damages sustained in the line of duty?

CrossWinds
CrossWinds

And legalizing marijuana will just add to the scourge of heroin addiction........

1 Peter 5:8........
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.

ScottHubachek
ScottHubachek

Those if us who have been getting treated by True Pain management doctors, will be the ones to ultimately pay the price, with the proposed new regulations.

DavidBecker
DavidBecker

To see without a vision is a terrible thing- and the Obama Administraion- including the Health Secretary, The Surgeon General and the Drug Czar- have no vision , no less a plan to deal with pain care problems in the U.S. And people are perishing withot a vision. The laissez faire attitude of Obama towards parlous pain care is indefensible. We cannot afford to remain frozen in the ice of indifferentism- pain care problems and their consequences are nothing new- its worse than tragic the indifferentism and impotent immobolism of the Obama administration toward people in pain.

WaismannMethod
WaismannMethod

After dozens of reports of his own government agencies about painkiller and heroin addiction at epidemic level, thousands of overdoses, countless victims with no resource for treatment, they acknowledge there is a problem....Simply sad...

MichaelGalovich
MichaelGalovich

Really, it took the death of a star for them to realize the problem??? They haven't heard about the thousands of deaths every year, until now????

everglade1
everglade1

@CrossWinds you are a moron or a sheeple.. your advocate walks around like a sheep herder bringing the flock to its slaughter. Clear proof we still live with the legacy of Anslinger and the cronies of big pharmacy. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary pretends to be your leader.


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