Pubdate: Fri, 10 Apr 2015
Source: Courier-Journal, The (Louisville, KY)
Copyright: 2015 The Courier-Journal
Author: Bruce Schreiner, Associated Press


COVINGTON, Ky. (AP) -  Venturing into the epicenter of Kentucky's 
fight against heroin addiction, national drug czar Michael Botticelli 
on Thursday touted needle-exchange programs as effective grassroots 
initiatives to combat the spread of infectious disease and to steer 
heroin users into treatment.

Botticelli, director of the White House Office of National Drug 
Control Policy, also urged the medical community's vigilance against 
overprescribing pain medications. He called for mandatory medical 
education for prescribers as a way to stop the abuse of painkillers.

Botticelli was invited by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to 
visit Northern Kentucky, an area especially hard hit by heroin 
addiction. Drug abuse is an ongoing problem in Kentucky, where 
overdose deaths have outpaced fatalities from motor vehicle crashes.

McConnell, a fierce critic of many of President Barack Obama's 
policies, said the fight against drug abuse is a bipartisan issue.

"This is an area where there is no partisan difference," said 
McConnell, R-Ky. "We're all in this together."

Asked whether the Republican-led Congress would pump more federal 
money into drug prevention and treatment programs, McConnell replied: 
"I'm sure there's never enough, but we're going to do the best we 
can, given the constraints that we have."

Appearing at a Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce event, 
Botticelli was asked about needle-exchange programs, which became a 
contentious issue as Kentucky lawmakers worked on sweeping 
anti-heroin legislation this year. The final product passed by the 
General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Steve Beshear allows 
local governments to set up needle-exchange programs where addicts 
can swap dirty needles for clean ones.

Botticelli advocated the programs as a way to help stem the spread of 
hepatitis and HIV and to get heroin users into treatment.

"They've been demonstrated to reduce not only infectious disease but 
also create an opportunity for people to get the care and provide a 
transition into treatment for people in the community," he said.

Needle-exchange programs also reduce the risk that law enforcement 
officers will be infected by accidental needle sticks, he said.

The new anti-heroin law toughens penalties for heroin dealers of at 
least 60 grams. It increases spending by about $10 million on 
substance-abuse treatment programs. It would shield people who call 
911 to report an overdose from being charged with drug possession.

Botticelli emphasized the importance of community efforts to combat 
drug abuse as he heard from a host of Kentuckians "" including people 
who lost loved ones to drug addiction and local political leaders 
grappling with ways to reverse rising drug abuse rates.

He pinpointed the nation's scourge of prescription pill abuse to the 
"vast overprescribing" of pain medication.

Botticelli called for mandatory medical education for medical 
prescribers to ensure safe and effective prescribing of painkillers.

"We need the medical community to work with us to make sure that 
we're adequately treating pain but we're not overprescribing these 
pain medications," Botticelli said.

In Kentucky, state lawmakers in 2011 made it much harder for people 
to get prescription painkillers. As a result, addicts turned to the 
cheaper and more readily available heroin, an opioid with similar 
effects to prescription painkillers.

Among those posing questions to Botticelli was Emily Walden, who said 
her son TJ died of a prescription drug overdose. He would have turned 
24 on Thursday, she said. She was critical of pharmaceutical 
companies and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. She said "Big 
Pharma created this mess" of prescription pill abuse and bluntly 
asked: "When is the FDA going to put American lives before the 
paychecks of Big Pharma?"

Botticelli replied FDA has taken steps in which it is "increasingly 
looking at only approving abuse-deterrent formulations of these medications."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom