Yesterday, I had the opportunity to join with Director Botticelli of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to convene the first meeting of the Attorney General’s Heroin Task Force. The meeting was the first step in bringing together federal agency experts from law enforcement, medicine, public health and educational fields to help develop a coordinated response to our nation’s heroin crisis.
Make no mistake—there is a heroin crisis. The numbers are staggering. In 2013 alone:
- More than 680,000 Americans used heroin;
- More than 8,200 Americans died of a heroin overdose; and
More than 160,000 Americans tried heroin for the first time, including more than 20,000 children between the ages of 12 and 17.
It does not matter if you live in an urban area or a rural area, on the East Coast or the West Coast, in the heartland or in Indian Country, this problem is affecting families in every corner of our country. The epidemic involves not simply heroin, but also a number of prescription opioids, which, when abused, can drive users towards addiction.
When Congress directed the Department of Justice to create this Task Force, it called for a comprehensive solution, not an easy one. No single federal agency can solve this crisis alone.
Certainly law enforcement will play a crucial role, and we will continue to prosecute those who are distributing heroin on the streets of our country. But we can’t simply arrest our way out of this problem. It’s going to take many people from many disciplines working together on an holistic approach. That’s why we’ve asked U.S. Attorney David Hickton for the Western District of Pennsylvania and Deputy Director Mary Lou Leary for State, Local, and Tribal Affairs at ONDCP to serve as Co-Chairs of the Task Force. Together they have assembled a wide variety of stakeholders—not just agents and prosecutors, but also doctors, social workers, and addiction specialists—in hopes of developing lasting solutions rather quick fixes.
Starting this week, the Task Force will form committees and create a strategic plan that will be submitted to Congress and the President by end of 2015. This strategic plan will provide a framework for national, regional, and local efforts to reduce both the supply and use of heroin.
This is a daunting task. But with the collective efforts of the members of this Task Force, I’m confident that we will build on the Administration’s ongoing public health and safety approach to combatting the opioid epidemic, and have a real impact on this terrible problem.