The US government is launching a $5m (£3.2m) initiative to combat the use and trafficking of heroin, with a focus on prioritising treatment rather than punishment.
The use of the drug has spiked in recent years from New England to Washington, D.C.
The program will pair public health workers with law enforcement officials across the 15 eastern states hardest hit by heroin, and will be initially funded for $2.5 million by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, reported Reuters.
“The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program helps Federal, state, and local authorities to coordinate drug enforcement operations, support prevention efforts and improve public health and safety”, Director Botticelli said in a statement.
Earlier this year, that led the Kentucky General Assembly to approve a series of measures to battle heroin, including tougher penalties for traffickers, expanded treatment and authorizing syringe exchanges and first responders like paramedics and firefighters to use the overdose-reversal drug Naloxone. The coordination of health officials and officers will serve to track data on overdoses, and ensure that EMTs are trained on how to use overdose-reversal medications on patients.
Included in the White House contingency are 15 drug intelligence personnel and 15 health experts who will be tasked to collect information on heroin overdose and current movement or trends in drug trade and distribution for the utilization of the law enforcement officers, the Post said.
A senior official declared that the approach “needs to be broad and inclusive” involving law enforcement, public health and public safety representatives. The CDC calls for increased measures at the federal and state level to handle preventive and therapeutic measures for heroin overdose in vulnerable communities. Another part of the package released Monday by the White House includes almost $4 million to be split between 18 HIDTAs and used on prevention efforts and partnerships between law enforcement, public health and education. In 2013 more than 8,200 people died from the narcotic.
“Where is the public health part of this initiative?” said Davis. “But we need so much more”.
Rapier added that the money announced in the White House initiative on Monday was not a large amount “in dollars” but was vital in terms of the principle of exploring a new approach to a problem that is “devastating” for those it affects and has blown up relatively recently in some areas.
Dr. Caroline Teschke, program manager of Portland’s India Street Clinical Services and Infectious Disease center, which operates the city’s needle exchange program for heroin users, said she has seen a shift over the past few months in how people and civic leaders talk about heroin addiction.
“The time has come for us to stop quietly averting our eyes from the growing heroin addiction in our front yards”, Shumlin said then, “while we fear and fight treatment facilities in our backyards”.