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In heroin fight, White House will push treatment

Aug 17, 2015

[Published by the Washington Post, Aug. 16]

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.

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