White House stresses treatment in new $133M fight against drugs

The Obama administration is pushing a more aggressive response to the country's growing drug overdose problem, which health officials describe as “a very, very high priority.”

The federal government is seeking $133 million in new funding to combat the rising rate of heroin and prescription medication deaths across the country.  

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The effort, led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), puts a stronger focus on treating drug addicts, rather than jailing them.

“We’re trying to make it clear that medication-assisted treatment is an appropriate approach to addiction,” SAMHSA Administrator Pamela Hyde told reporters in a call Thursday.

The new funds would expand access to treatment, build up the national system for monitoring prescriptions and better train emergency responders, administration officials added. The plan would also tighten prescription drug use under Medicare Part D, requiring “high-risk beneficiaries” to get their medication only from specific providers and pharmacies.

Treatment and counseling — which Hyde said were both crucial to combating addiction — would also be integrated into the law enforcement response to drugs.

The budget includes millions of new dollars to provide treatment to inmates or former inmates who are now on probation or parole.

David Hickton, a U.S. attorney from Pennsylvania representing the Department of Justice on the call, said the new dollars for the CDC and SAMSHA will help address the “demand side” of the country’s drug epidemic.

“Addiction is an illness and the drug traffickers that we prosecute are preying on sick people. A lot of this work will help people get well, which we are happy to embrace and happy to be a partner in,” he said.

At least $60 million would go directly to states, while the rest would bulk up the budgets of the CDC, SAMSHA and the Department of Justice.

The funding request faces a major political battle against the GOP-controlled Congress, which has blasted the president's trillion-dollar proposed budget.