U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has described the increasing number of heroin-related deaths in the United States as a "growing public health crisis."
In a video message posted on the Department of Justice website Monday, Holder said that the increasing number of deaths in the U.S. due to heroin and prescription abuse is an "urgent public health crisis" and declared that his agency would combat the problem through tougher enforcement and improved drug treatment efforts.
"It's clear that opiate addiction is an urgent - and growing - public health crisis. And that's why Justice Department officials, including the DEA, and other key federal, state, and local leaders, are fighting back aggressively," Holder said. "Confronting this crisis will require a combination of enforcement and treatment. The Justice Department is committed to both."
Holder pointed out that addiction to opiates affects the lives of many Americans and that the number of deaths due to opiate abuse has climbed 45 percent from 2006 and 2010.
"Addiction to heroin and other opiates - including certain prescription pain-killers - is impacting the lives of Americans in every state, in every region, and from every background and walk of life - and all too often, with deadly results," Holder said. "Between 2006 and 2010, heroin overdose deaths increased by 45 percent."
The Attorney General has likewise encouraged law enforcement agencies to train their personnel on how to use naloxone, a life-saving drug used for countering the effects of opiate overdose, saying that 17 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have already amended their law to boost access to the overdose-reversal drug, which resulted in over 10,000 overdose reversals since 2001.
Holder said that his office is working to curb substance abuse by adopting strategies that would cut unnecessary access to controlled substances.
"With DEA as our lead agency, we have adopted a strategy to attack all levels of the supply chain to prevent pharmaceutical controlled substances from getting into the hands of non-medical users," Holder said. "DEA proactively investigates the diversion of controlled substances at all levels of the supply chain. This includes practitioners that illegally dispense prescriptions, pharmacists that fill those prescriptions, and distributors that send controlled substances downstream without due diligence efforts. DEA also uses its regulatory authority to review and investigate new pharmacy applications in targeted areas to identify and prevent storefront drug traffickers from obtaining DEA registrations. And they're also going after "pill mills."
Still, Holder acknowledged that enforcements alone are not enough which is why his office enlists the help of doctors, educators, community leaders and police officials as they play a crucial role in drug abuse education, prevention, and treatment. Holder also said that the most effective way to combat drug abuse is through awareness efforts that begin at home.
"And frequently, the most effective efforts are those that begin at home," Holder said. "Parents and families can help raise awareness about the devastating consequences of opiate abuse."