Pubdate: Mon, 17 Aug 2015
Source: San Diego Union Tribune (CA)
Copyright: 2015 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
Note: Seldom prints LTEs from outside it's circulation area.
Author: Marc Fisher, Fisher writes for The Washington Post.


As Overdoses Spike, White House Seeks Shift in Approach

WASHINGTON - As heroin overdoses and deaths soar in many parts of the 
nation, the White House plans today to announce 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 Washington, 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 today. 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 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."

California and 25 other 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, and that clears 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 new funding 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.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom