In the face of growing opioid addiction in the United States, President Barack Obama announced on Wednesday, Oct. 21, how the government will initiate steps to improve public access to drug treatment and provide better training for medical professionals in the proper prescription of painkillers.
The Obama administration's efforts to address heroin and prescription medication overdosing are likely to have only a modest impact. The sharp increase in incidence has led to more deaths than those caused by vehicular accidents every year.
People addicted to opioid drugs are also met with different barriers before they can receive treatment for their condition.
The government plan involves an increase in the number of medical professionals trained to prescribe an anti-opiate addiction drug called buprenorphine from 30,000 doctors to 60,000 within the next three years.
More than 40 different medical care providers have expressed support in training about half a million individuals, including physicians, dentists and other medical professionals, in the safe and proper way of prescribing opiate drugs.
Michael Botticelli, head of the White House National Drug Control Policy, said that the move highlights Obama's call on federal officials to do more in order to address heroin and prescription drug abuse in the U.S.
Obama and other government heads met with residents of Charleston, West Virginia and discussed how to treat drug abuse as a form of illness and not a criminal act.
Carey Dixon, one of the locals who attended the discussion, provided a heartfelt account of her experience being with a drug addicted relative.
The president himself recounted his past experiences with youthful indiscretions and how his own daughters helped inspire him to act on the growing problem of drug addiction.
"I did stuff, and I've been very honest about it," Obama said. "So when I think about it, there but for the grace of God."
The president said he shares in the plight of families who almost lost children to drug addiction. He pointed out that children from poor and minority families are the ones most vulnerable to addiction but are just as deserving to be saved as others.
"It could be Malia or Sasha or Carey's kids or any of our kids," Obama said. "Those kids don't always look like us, don't live in the same neighborhoods as us. They're just as precious."
The Obama administration's announcement is part of a larger effort to tackle opiate addiction in the country and control the prescription of powerful medications.
The United States has seen a significant increase in heroin overdose cases, with drug abuse-related deaths quadrupling in the past 10 years. Many individuals engaged in heroin abuse start out by using prescription painkillers.
The government has proposed a budget of $133 million to be used in preventing the overprescription of opioids; collecting more data on overdose cases; and providing drug abuse victims with better access to a drug called Naloxone, which can reverse the health effects of an opiate overdose.
In August, the Obama administration revealed a plan to have drug enforcement agents coordinate with government health workers in tracing heroin routes. It also said that it has initiated tighter rules in prescribing well-known painkillers.
Photo: John Althouse Cohen | Flickr