Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday described the increase in heroin abuse in the United States as an “urgent and growing” health crisis.
Heroin-related deaths spiked by 45 percent from 2006-2010, Holder said in a weekly video message, partly due to a sharp increase in prescription opiate addiction.
“The transition to and the increase in heroin abuse is a sad but not unpredictable symptom of the significant increase in prescription drug abuse that we’ve seen over the past decade,” Holder said in the video.
The increase in heroin use has been in the spotlight since actor Philip Seymour Hoffman's death last month. He was found dead in his New York City apartment with a syringe in his left arm. An autopsy found Hoffman had taken heroin and several other drugs.
Holder said the Justice Department is fighting back against heroin “very aggressively” by working with state and local partners to cut off illegal opiate sales at all levels of the supply chain.
He said the Justice Department has opened more than 4,500 investigations related to heroin since 2011, and heroin seizures on the southwest border have increased 320 percent since 2008.
The attorney general also called on first responders to carry the drug naloxone, which can reverse the effects of a heroin overdose if administered quickly.
"Used in concert with 'Good Samaritan' laws, which grant immunity from criminal prosecution to those seeking medical help for someone experiencing an overdose, naloxone can save lives," the Justice Department said.
He also urged people to watch the documentary “The Opiate Effect,” which tells the story of a father’s mission to educate the public after his son’s death from an overdose.
— This story was updated at 12:02 p.m.