FEDS PLEDGING FULL ATTENTION TO HEROIN EPIDEMIC
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder recently acknowledged the epidemic “snuck up on us” at a national law enforcement summit on heroin in April. But, he also used the summit to pledge renewed attention to what he called “an urgent public health crisis.”
Holder cited a rise in investigations and heroin seizures by the DEA over the past three years and the Justice Department’s commitment to specialty drug courts that let addicts get treatment “and return to their communities before incarceration.”
Last year, the DEA seized more than 2,100 kilos, or about 2.3 tons, of heroin at the Mexican border. That’s more than triple the amount seized in 2008. But DEA officials say they weren’t specifically targeting heroin. There’s just more heroin crossing the border.
At the summit, Holder acknowledged more needs to be done. “Addressing this … will require a combination of rigorous enforcement and robust treatment.”
At the same time, the explosion of heroin users, addicts and overdose deaths has some critics asking why it took so long and whether a faster response by public officials — at all levels — could have slowed or prevented heroin’s resurgence. Much of the criticism is aimed at the Food and Drug Administration’s handling of the approval the original opioid pain pills for wide use.
“This did not sneak up on us,” said Kolodny, who is also chief medical officer for Phoenix House, a New York-based drug treatment non-profit organization. “The opioid epidemic began in the late 1990s, and very early on we saw people who were addicted to opioids move over to heroin. Had the FDA been doing its job, I don’t think we would have an epidemic today.”
I never understood the concept of letting an addict crash and burn before you intervene. This is a public health crisis. Addiction is a chronic disease.
CHARLOTTE WETHINGTON, MOTHER OF A HEROIN VICTIM AND ADVOCATE FOR TREATMENT
Wethington, the anti-drug activist, said the fervor with which government officials are acting is encouraging, but much delayed.
“I was trying to sound the warning bell and nobody was listening,” said Wethington, who now works as an addiction and recovery counselor.
Unable to find local help from doctors, law enforcement or treatment centers during and after her son’s overdose, Wethington pushed for changes to Kentucky law to allow families to petition courts to intervene and order addiction and rehab services for drug addicts — even if they had no criminal record.
“I never understood the concept of letting an addict crash and burn before you intervene,” she said. “This is a public health crisis. Addiction is a chronic disease.”
Kentucky adopted the Matthew Casey Wethington Act for Substance Abuse Intervention in 2004 — modeled after an existing Florida law. Ohio adopted a variation of Casey’s law in 2012. Advocates in at least 11 other states, including Indiana, Arizona, New York and Florida, are working to do the same.
“I get calls from people all over the country who ask me how can I get Casey’s law in my state. It’s bittersweet because we couldn’t save our own son.”