White House launches new effort to combat heroin epidemic

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The White House on Monday announced a new strategy to fight heroin that emphasizes the public-health aspects of the epidemic and pairs medical experts with law enforcement officials. 

The announcement includes $2.5 million to create five pairs of regional coordinators across 15 northeastern states, an area where the heroin epidemic has hit particularly hard. 

Each of the five regions will have one coordinator with a public health focus working alongside a coordinator focused on public safety. 

The public-health coordinator will oversee reporting of overdose information and issue alerts on dangerous batches; setting the distribution of naloxone, an overdose-fighting drug; or other steps, the White House said. 

The public safety coordinator, meanwhile, will provide support and intelligence to law enforcement looking to disrupt the heroin supply. 

“The new Heroin Response Strategy demonstrates a strong commitment to address the heroin and prescription opioid epidemic as both a public health and a public safety issue,” Michael Botticelli, director of national drug control policy, said in a statement. 

The $5 million in total funds also includes $1.3 million for regional programs looking to stop the flow of heroin across the border with Mexico. 

Heroin and prescription drug overdoses have drawn bipartisan attention as a growing problem. The rate of heroin overdose deaths has almost tripled since the early 2000s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellRubio: GOP Congress could go in different direction than Trump Pelosi blasts GOP leaders for silence on Trump Reid: Groping accusations show Trump’s ‘sickness’ MORE (R-Ky.), whose home state of Kentucky has also been particularly affected, has joined with Sen. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeySanders, Dem senators press Obama to halt ND pipeline Senate Dems ask Obama to block Atlantic, Arctic offshore drilling Federal agency under fire for selling recalled cars MORE (D-Mass.) to call for a surgeon general’s report on the problem and has invited Botticelli, the White House drug czar, to Kentucky. 

Kentucky is one of 15 states that are a part of the strategy announced Monday, and McConnell praised the effort. 

“This is a positive development for Kentucky’s efforts to fight the use of heroin that is hitting the Commonwealth particularly hard,” McConnell said in a statement. 

He also pointed to the regional, inter-agency focus as important to using funds efficiently. 

“I have no doubt that this new funding will enhance law enforcement’s ability to fight heroin in some of the areas, such as Kentucky, that have seen communities and families ravaged because of this drug,” McConnell said. “In this era of limited federal resources, we must use these interagency partnerships to maximize our return from the federal dollars we spend to combat this epidemic.”