Pubdate: Mon, 17 Aug 2015
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2015 The Washington Post Company
Author: Marc Fisher


White House Responds to Surge in Use, Deaths

As heroin overdoses and deaths soar in many parts of the nation, the 
White House plans to announce Monday an initiative that will for the 
first time pair public health and law enforcement in an effort to 
shift the emphasis from punishment to the treatment of addicts.

The experiment, initially funded for one year in 15 states from New 
England to the D.C. area, will pair drug intelligence officers with 
public health coordinators to trace where heroin is coming from, how 
and where it is being laced with a deadly additive, and who is 
distributing it to street-level dealers.

Two senior officials described the initiative to The Washington Post 
on the condition of anonymity because the program was not scheduled 
to be announced until Monday. The new program is a response to a 
steep increase in heroin use and deaths in much of the nation, 
especially in New England and some of the other Northeastern states 
covered in the new program. The death rate from overdoses has 
quadrupled in the past decade, according to a report from the Centers 
for Disease Control and Prevention.

 From local police to federal law enforcement agencies, two constant 
frustrations in the battle against the spread of heroin have been an 
inability to get solid, timely information about where the drug is 
coming from and who is distributing it, and widespread ignorance 
among first responders about how to recognize and handle overdoses.

The new effort, proposed by the New York/New Jersey High Intensity 
Drug Trafficking Area program, one of 28 such federally funded law 
enforcement initiatives nationwide, seeks to address those problems 
by hiring 15 drug intelligence officers and 15 health policy analysts 
who will collect overdose data, find patterns and get intelligence 
about trafficking trends to street-level law enforcement far more 
quickly than the current system allows. In addition, the initiative 
will train first responders on when and how to deploy medication that 
can reverse opioid overdoses.

"Our approach needs to be broad and inclusive," a senior White House 
official said. "Law enforcement is only one part of what really needs 
to be a comprehensive public health, public safety approach."

Twenty-six states have passed overdose-prevention legislation that 
allows police or fire-and-rescue officers to administer naloxone, 
which quickly counters the effects of a heroin overdose. The laws 
also clear the way for people to call for help for an overdosing 
addict without facing arrest for their own drug use.

And the Obama administration this year proposed $133 million in new 
spending to curb overprescription of opioid painkillers, the drugs 
that have proved to be the primary gateway to heroin use, and to 
expand the use of suboxone and methadone, drugs that are used as more 
benign substitutes to wean addicts off the powerful urge to return to heroin.

By comparison, the $2.5 million being committed to the latest program 
by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy is a small 
investment, but a senior law enforcement official involved in 
developing the new strategy said the pairing of public health workers 
and police is a key step toward "both reducing crime and reducing the 
number of people who end up in emergency rooms."

The money will pay for hiring "a cop and a health data analyst" in 15 
of the nation's 28 High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas, which cover 
about 17 percent of U.S. counties and about 60 percent of the 
population, the official said.

The new hires will work under a law enforcement coordinator who will 
use the data to identify targets for police to go after across state 
lines, and a regional health coordinator who will analyze trends in 
the overdose data and devise strategies for combating spikes in drug use.

The official said he proposed the initiative to overcome bureaucratic 
hurdles that make it difficult for information about overdoses and 
trafficking to cross state lines and get to police in a timely manner.

"If somebody from Brooklyn is arrested with heroin in Burlington, 
Vermont, we may not hear about it for months, when that information 
could allow us to see a trafficking pattern that lets us focus on who 
to go after," he said.

Public health data often is not widely distributed for many months, 
if not years, after the events that originate it. The initiative will 
allow public health and law-enforcement agencies "to see where 
fentanyl-laced heroin is turning up, in real time, so we can react," 
the enforcement official said.

Fentanyl, an opiate that in its legal, prescription form is used to 
treat post-surgery pain, has been turning up as an additive in the 
heroin that has caused a growing portion of overdose deaths in recent months.

"Heroin is killing people," the enforcement official said, "and too 
often, public health goes one way and law enforcement goes the other. 
Often, grants create silos in government. This program is designed 
not to create any new agency but to bring people together to break 
out of those silos."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom