The White House is planning to announce on Monday, Aug. 17 that it will initiate a program to help combat the increasing number of heroin overdoses and fatalities in several US regions. This initiative is said to be the first of its kind to team up law enforcement and public health sectors to sway the focus of management from punishing to treating the addicts.

The program will involve the coordination of public health coordinators and drug intelligence experts in identifying the source, the manner of transmission and the areas where heroin is being added with a fatal additive, as well as the people behind the street-dealing operations. Two senior officials, who requested not to disclose their identities due to the pending announcement, told The Washington Post that the program is initially funded for one year across 15 states from New England to the District of Columbia.

According to the local police department and federal law enforcement offices, solving the problem of heroin addiction has always been challenged by two things: the lack of appropriate timing for the information dissemination of the drug's source and distributor, and the significant inexperience of first responders in determining and handling cases of overdose.

The data coming from the public health department do not become readily available and usually takes several months or even years before it can be accessed. With this, the authorities are not able to collate information right after the events happen and investigations are not completely executed until after a later time. As the new program will involve both public health personnel and law enforcement officers to work together, the place where the modified heroin originates will be known as it happens, thereby enabling authorities to react as appropriate.

More specifically, the effort, which was proposed by the New York/New Jersey High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, is looking at hiring 15 health policy analysts and 15 drug intelligence experts to collate necessary data, identify patterns of operation and obtain intelligence about the trafficking trends to street-level laws more swiftly than the current system. The program will also teach first responders the correct timing and manner of deploying drugs that can counteract opioid overdoses.

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy will allot $2.5 million in funds to the heroin management program - a fairly small amount considering that the Obama administration has proposed a $133 million budget to promote the benign heroin-weaning drugs called methadone and suboxone and to halt the overprescription of opioid painkillers, which are considered the gateways for heroin use.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Development, a quadruple increase in mortality rates due to overdoses has been noted in the past 10 years. "Heroin is killing people," said the enforcement official. More often than not, public health and law enforcement do not meet. New departments formed through grants are common but in this new program, no new agency will be formed; just a conglomeration of people to escape from those silos.

Photo: Karen Neoh | Flickr

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