Tag: Obama

Will Obama’s Latest Drug Prevention Program Be Enough?

The White House Steps in to Help Addicts

gathering data on heroin overdoses

We recently reported on a number of top scientists who believe the heroin epidemic is on its way out. While that’s wonderful news it doesn’t exactly help the men and women caught in active opioid addiction.

Well, it looks like President Obama and the White House have a new plan to help heroin addicts!

The Office of National Drug Control Policy recently announced a multimillion-dollar program to target and gather data from fifteen East Coast states, as well as create local “drug intelligence officers” and pair them with public health coordinators to parse the data.

In practical terms, this will allow officials to learn where heroin is coming from, where it’s going, how it’s being transported, where it’s being laced with drugs like fentanyl, and who is selling it on a street level.

White House officials have long talked about the challenges of gathering accurate and time sensitive drug trend information. This is their attempt to combat that as it applies to heroin and other powerful opioid painkillers.

A senior White House official, speaking anonymously, told the Washington Post,

“Our approach needs to be broad and inclusive…Law enforcement is only one part of what really needs to be a comprehensive public health, public safety approach.”

Sounds good to me! Read on to learn exactly what this new program will do and what states it covers!

High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas

What exactly will this new program accomplish? Well, at its most basic, it’s going to provide money to hire fifteen drug intelligence officers and health policy analysts who will do the following:

    • Collect heroin trafficking, use & overdose data

 

    • Identify patterns

 

    • Identify major heroin distributors & coordinate multistate approaches to their arrest

 

    • Identify heroin use & overdose trends

 

    • Distribute all information to street-level police, firefighters & health workers

 

    • Train first responders on the use of Narcan

 

These measures will be implemented in fifteen of the country’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas. They’re going to cover the following fifteen states along the East Coast, with one pair of officials per state: Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia.

Probably the largest advantage this new program offers is the speed at which data will be collected and circulated to law enforcement and health officials. In fact, various government officials are already praising the program as an innovate and unique approach to facilitating access to health data that usually takes years to be seen.

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Is it Too Little Too Late?

Despite being loved by many, the White House’s new plan isn’t without its fair share of critics.

Lighthouse reported on how Obama proposed a total of $27.6 billion to be spent on drug abuse prevention in 2016. Compare that to the funding for this current project – a paltry $2.5 million.

Not to mention that the Obama administration proposed $133 million should be spent this year alone to help fight the over prescription of painkillers and expand the use of Medication Assisted Therapies.

There seems to be a pretty large discrepancy between what’s being proposed and what’s actually happening. Still, change takes time and two and a half million dollars isn’t anything to laugh at.

There’s also the fact that this $2.5 million is only one small part of a larger $13.4 million grant to High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas. From what we can tell, the remainder of that money is being used to fund law enforcement initiatives.

heroin trafficking prevention

Again, this doesn’t come without its fair share of naysayers. Bill Piper, the Director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs, is just one of these. He recently told USA Today,

“Half of what they’re doing is right – the focus on health and overdose prevention – but the other half, the side that focuses on the failed arrest and incarceration policies of the past is destined to ruin lives and fail.”

It’s a debate as old as time itself. Should addicts be offered treatment or be arrested? Regardless of where you stand on that matter – and opinions tend to vary widely – we can all agree that money going towards gathering heroin trafficking and use data is money well spent.

After all, we’re not going to push the heroin epidemic off America’s plate until we fully understand how people are transporting, selling, and using the drug. This latest initiative brings us one step closer to understanding and, ultimately, one step closer to winning.

The Changing Demographics of Heroin Overdose

Younger Addicts are Overdosing More Often

There’s been a large shift in the demographics of heroin addicts over the last fifteen years. Coinciding with this demographic shift is another shift – the spike in heroin overdose rates among younger white individuals from the Midwest.

heroin fatalities

Consider that in 2000, way back in the halcyon days of heroin addiction, overdose and death rates were highest among older black men from the Northeast and West coast. Today, overdose and death rates are highest among young, white men and women living in the Midwest.

This new information is based a report from the Center for Disease Control, complied from 2013 information. So, what exactly does their report say? Well, without sugar coating the information, it says there’s still very much a heroin epidemic raging across the United States.

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New Overdose Rates

Find information from the CDC’s new report, distilled into a few key bullet points, below:

  • In 2013 there were 8,257 heroin related deaths. This is a sharp increase from 2012 (5,925 overdose deaths) and 2010 (approximately 3,000 overdose deaths).
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  • Overdose deaths related to heroin have increased across all sections of the population. Men, women, all age brackets, and all races have seen an increase in heroin overdose.
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  • African-Americans between the ages of 45-64, living in the Northeast and West Coast, made up the bulk of heroin overdose deaths in 2000. By 2013, white men and women between the ages of 18-44, living in the Midwest, had overtaken them in heroin overdose deaths.
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  • In fact, more than half of all fatal heroin overdoses in 2013 occurred to white individuals in that age bracket. That breaks down to over 4,100 deaths.
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  • There were more than 16,000 opioid painkiller related deaths in 2013. That’s about double the number of heroin related deaths.
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  • Despite the high number of painkiller fatalities, the overall rate of painkiller overdose remains static. Heroin overdoses, however, continue to rise.
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    Why are Heroin Deaths Climbing?

    The above numbers don’t paint rosy picture. Rather, they show a county in the midst of a storm of opioid abuse. Some of that abuse takes the form of using heroin, while the majority still revolves around painkillers.

    But why are heroin overdose rates climbing while painkiller overdose rates remain static? This, my friends, is the million-dollar question. And the answer lies somewhere between stricter regulations on opioid medication and less social stigma associated with heroin.

    As individual states increase control over how powerful opioid pills are prescribed, and as the nation as a whole reacts to this painkiller epidemic, it makes sense that people are shifting to heroin. After all, if an addict can’t find the pills they need, but they can find heroin that will produce the same effects, well, they’re going to use heroin.

    Here we come to the second part of why more and more people are using, and overdosing on, heroin – decreased social stigma. In days past, heroin addicts were thought of as homeless, mentally ill, depraved, etc. In today’s climate, that isn’t the case at all.

    heroin overdose deaths

    Rising purity levels mean that heroin users don’t need to inject the drug. They can simply smoke or sniff and achieve the same high. Removing the needle from heroin abuse has gone a long way to making it more acceptable. Of course, the needle is still involved. As dabblers find themselves moving from use to abuse to addiction, they also find themselves moving from sniffing or smoking to shooting up.

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    What’s the Heroin Overdose Solution?

    Here’s where things get tricky. What’s the solution to the ever-increasing number of heroin overdoses? Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer. There’s no magic pill that will cure heroin addiction and overdose. There are, however, some very promising options on the horizon.

    First, there’s naloxone. The popular “anti-overdose” drug, commonly known by the brand name Narcan, is saving thousands of lives each year. Naloxone removes heroin molecules from an individual’s body in minutes. It’s literally a lifesaver.

    Several states, notably New Jersey, have increased first-responders access to this life saving chemical. The results have been astounding to say the least! Since mid-2014, over 800 New Jersey residents have been administered Narcan. That’s 800 saved lives!

    Going hand-in-hand with increasing access to naloxone is an overall increase in the Federal budget for drug abuse prevention and treatment. In his 2016 budget, Obama has earmarked over $26 billion for various drug programs. While much of this money is being funneled into fighting prescription drug abuse, make no mistake that heroin overdose prevention will see an increase in federal dollars.

    Finally, hope for the rising numbers of heroin overdoses comes from a rather traditional channel – twelve-step fellowships. Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous have been helping individuals break their addictions for decades. Surely they offer a beacon of hope for the shifting demographics of heroin overdose.

    Learn more about Narcan and the benefits it offers!

    Obama Offers Hope to Decrease Painkiler Abuse

    Obama’s Response to a Rising Number of Overdoses

    A record number of people are dying from heroin and prescription opioid overdoses. That news, however sad, is nothing new. Since 2007, prescription pills have accounted for an unmanageably high number of deaths – 27,000 to be exact.

    It looks like President Obama is finally aiming to lower that number. He just rolled out the federal budget for 2016 and it contains a number of drug treatment related initiatives.

    opioid overdose epidemic

    These include, among others, prescription drug monitoring programs, growing the number of federally funded rehabs, increasing access to Narcan, implementing early intervention support systems, and increasing the use of Opioid Replacement Therapies (sometimes referred to as Medication-Assisted Treatment, or MAT).

    All told, Obama has earmarked an almost 5% increase in federal drug program spending from 2015’s budget. This amounts to a total of $27.6 billion. That’s a decent chunk of change!

    With this infusion of money into the government’s drug prevention, control, and treatment strategy, America may see real change. With the attitude of the federal government increasingly shifting from “addiction is a moral issue,” to “addiction is a disease,” we may see real change. With more and more individual states implementing their own drug policy updates, we may see real change.

    Overall, it looks like Washington is poised to finally offer an effective and lasting solution to the opioid epidemic that’s ravaged America for the last decade.

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    Obama’s Plan

    As mentioned above, President Obama is attempting to change how our country deals with drug addiction through some innovative programs. These include: prescription drug monitoring programs, early intervention, Narcan, increasing federally funded rehabs, and increasing accesses to medication-assisted therapies.

    How exactly will these programs be implemented, though? How does Obama plan to turn over $27 billion into lasting and meaningful change?

    Well, to improve the country’s prescription drug monitoring programs, some of that money will be used to increase the size of regulatory agencies that monitor prescription drug dispensing. Funds will also be allocated to increase the reach of agencies that collect data on prescription drug dispensing.

    To implement early intervention programs, the federal government will allocate funding, as well as partner with SAMHSA (the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), to offer a five-step, community driven process called Strategic Prevention Framework.

    Finally, the government will seek to decrease the overall prescribing of opioid medications. After all, fewer painkillers being prescribed means fewer will be diverted for illicit use.

    This is a vital step, especially when you consider that, in 2011, there were 131 million prescriptions written for Vicodin alone. When you combine that number with other painkiller prescription numbers, it becomes clear why so many people are overdosing. But, what’s the alternative?

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    Opioid Pain Management Alternatives

    obama drug policy

    Part of the government’s budget is centered around monitoring the prescription rates of opioid painkillers, but what about reducing the number altogether. That’s a whole other beast.

    The executive director of the American Academy of Pain Management, Bob Twillman, acknowledged Obama’s changes to federal drug policy. He also stated that more needs to be done. He’s gone on record as saying,

    “I think what happens is when people go to the doctor now and they have pain, the first response for most prescribers and many doctors is okay, let me write you a prescription…there are a lot of other things we can do besides write prescriptions that will help people with their pain — and that’s especially true for people who have chronic pain” (Forbes).

    These alternatives include physical therapy and acupuncture, among others.

    If the government can successfully integrate programs that monitor and decrease painkiller prescription, well, then we’ll see a large scale change in the number of individuals who die as a result of narcotic medication.

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