President Obama addressed the opiate epidemic plaguing America on Wednesday at a press conference in West Virginia, the state with the most drug overdose deaths in the nation.
“This crisis is taking lives. It’s destroying families; it’s shattering communities all across the country,” he said to a packed room of people, many of whom have been directly affected by the opioid epidemic and are struggling to comprehend the current state of treatment for their loved ones.
One father stood up in the audience and spoke about how his daughter was saved from an accidental heroin overdose when first responders were able to administer the antidote drug naloxone. With his daughter now in treatment in Michigan, the question was raised: Why can’t there be more treatment facilities and programs in West Virginia and around the nation?
Obama’s proposed $133 million in new spending would provide more support for prescription drug monitoring programs. It will also decrease the amount of prescriptions written by medical professionals and expand access to naloxone. Congress will need to approve the spending before any initiatives can move forward.
Obama reminded everyone that in 2012 alone, there were a reported 259 million prescriptions written for opioid painkillers in the U.S., which “is enough to give every American adult their own bottle of pills.” The President added: “Four in five heroin users started out using prescription drugs, so this is a gateway drug.”
There have been commitments from more than 40 health care groups thus far – including physicians, dentists, nurses, and even educators – to follow the administration’s strategy for making treatment options more available to families and to have doctors become trained in how to properly administer opiates.
Law enforcement has also gotten on board to help combat the epidemic. Charleston Police Chief Brent Webster, who spoke at the conference, has been trying alternative ways to help the addicted persons in the community and their families. He and his team have initiated a “jail or immediate treatment” protocol in conjunction with the U.S Attorney. The protocol has been successful so far, with only one person being re-arrested since inception.
He also has his “Handle with Care” pilot program, in which police provide schools with a notification to make sure teachers are aware of a child who experienced a traumatic drug related event the night before. It is an attempt to make sure children from drug addicted households are shown a little extra care and have an eye kept on them. Both of these efforts by the police department could encourage the adoption of similar programs across the nation.
As everyone waits for Congress to do their part, Obama made sure he reminded all listeners that addiction doesn’t discriminate. “It could be your child,” he said. “This is an American problem.”