Today, the Obama Administration will be hosting a summit on prescription drug abuse and heroin. The government, treatment experts and public health officials will be discussing the rapid increase in opiate overdose deaths and different ways to slow down the epidemic. This is an important event because it is only the second time in fifteen years that the White House has convened to discuss the shocking surge in opiate related overdose deaths.
The United States has been plagued with a crisis of epic proportions since 1999. From 1999-2010 the number of drug overdoses has more than doubled according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The majority of those deaths have been the result of powerful prescription painkillers and the shift that most abusers make to a cheaper and more accessible heroin.
One of the guests of the summit will be Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, who we have spoken about extensively. He devoted almost his entire "state of the state address" in January to the “full blown heroin crisis” that Vermont is dealing with. Shumlin has been at the forefront of this epidemic and his pro-active stance is creating a safer and better place to live for Vermont citizens.
The CDC released new data stating the number of overdose deaths related to heroin jumped by 45 percent from 2010 to 2011. The scariest part about this statistic is that even though there has been a significant increase in the amount of heroin user, the numbers of overdose deaths related to prescription painkillers is not decreasing. About half of the 41,340 people who died from drug overdose deaths in 2011 took prescription opiates.
"What we're seeing is an increase on the heroin side in terms of national statistics, and no decline on the prescription drug side," said Leonard Paulozzi, a medical epidemiologist at the CDC. According to Paulozzi, heroin deaths are notoriously hard to determine, especially when other drugs and alcohol are in the victim's system and are usually under-reported. Prosecutors are now asking for cooperation from police to treat overdose deaths like crimes and for coroners to perform autopsies as quickly as possible to preserve evidence. Prosecutors around the country are going after opiate drug dealers with manslaughter and even stricter charges in overdose deaths. Many prosecutors are also seizing all property of drug dealers and selling the items at auctions to fund drug programs in their communities.
It will be interesting to hear what ideas are brought to the table with this very powerful group of people. More funding, increased programs and overall attention to this growing epidemic could really help our society and our government has the ability to do just that. Our people need all the education they can get on this battle. What’s happened is it’s hit a crescendo that it’s affecting every community," said Cheryl Bartlett, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Bartlett is 100% correct. No town has been unaffected by this issue and it is time for our government to take action in a big way.