Obama takes on heroin epidemic as health crisis

The Obama administration has announced additional actions to address the heroin epidemic, shifting focus toward health care and away from criminalization.

By Bronte Price, PoliticKING

President Obama took on America’s rapidly growing heroin and prescription opioid epidemic on Tuesday, committing resources to go toward prevention and treatment. The president spoke about his plan to pivot away from criminalizing addicts, toward treating their addiction as a health problem. “For too long we’ve viewed drug addiction through the lens of criminal justice,” Obama said at a conference in Atlanta. “The most important thing to do is reduce demand. And the only way to do that is to provide treatment – to see it as a public health problem and not a criminal problem.”

Obama said he hoped that by participating in the National Prescription Drug Abuse Heroin Summit this week, he would draw attention to the shift in approach. The president pledged a series of efforts amounting to $116 million, directed toward treatment that the administration laid out earlier in the day.

“When I show up, usually cameras do too,” Obama said. “My hope is that it provides a greater spotlight to help solve this problem.”

The discussion was moderated by CNN chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta, who said that the aim of the panel was to “focus on a path forward, on solutions” to the problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the epidemic claimed 28,647 lives in 2014, which is more than a 400% increase in opioid overdoses since 2000.

The plan introduced by Obama includes $94 million in “new funding” which was released by the department of health and human services earlier this month. Now, at least 271 community health centers are able to expand “medication-assisted treatment of opioid use disorders in underserved communities.” Because of this funding, the centers now have the potential to treat 124,000 new patients, according to the White House. The plan also included $11 million for states to distribute naloxone, which is a drug that reverses opioid overdoses.

Obama explained the importance of the shift in approach toward the issue. “It was a seen as a character flaw, and ‘not our problem’,” he said. “But the way we have looked at cigarettes as a public health problem, and traffic fatalities as a public health problem, if you take the same approach here, it can make a difference.”

Watch as Dr. Damon Raskin of the Cliffside Malibu addiction treatment facility explains the reality of the heroin epidemic:

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.

Continue the Discussion