Heroin and Opioid Awareness Week
LITTLE ROCK—Christopher R. Thyer, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, announced today the start of the National Heroin and Opioid Awareness Week, which will reinforce the Department of Justice’s three-fold approach to the nationwide opioid and heroin epidemic: 1) prevention and awareness regarding the opioid and heroin problem; 2) enforcement priorities and best practices; and 3) resources that focus on treatment. This week, the Attorney General and other Department of Justice leaders, as well as U.S. Attorney’s Offices across the country, will participate in events designed to highlight and educate the public about the dangers of heroin and opioids.
On Friday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Arkansas will sponsor a forum at North Little Rock High School, at which time health care professionals, enforcement officials, and recovering addicts will speak to students about heroin and opioid abuse.
More Americans now die every year from drug overdoses than in motor vehicle crashes—and most of those involve prescription opioids or heroin. The statistics are sobering: 80% of the world’s supply of opioid medication is used in the United States, while 4.6% of the world’s population lives in the United States. In 2014 more than 27,000 lives were lost to heroin and opioids, and reports from the field indicate that this number has increased in 2015 and this year. While the largest share of this toll comes from the abuse of prescription opioids, the number of deaths from heroin has increased dramatically over the last several years.
A main component of the Department of Justice’s approach to the epidemic is the enforcement prong. The Department and the Eastern District of Arkansas seek to reduce the supply of these deadly substances by working closely with other federal agencies and our state and local partners to prosecute street dealers, gang members who sell drugs, dirty doctors and pharmacists, up to the leaders of the major cartels who move large quantities of heroin and other opioids into the United States.
However, this crisis will not be solved solely through prosecutions. The heroin and opioid epidemic requires a coordinated response across all elements of government and our society, including federal, state and local law enforcement as well as medical and public health authorities, community groups and concerned citizens. Enforcement efforts are much more effective when they are part of a larger strategy that seeks to educate potential drug users and prevent their involvement with opioids in the first place, and focuses on treatment.
The Eastern District of Arkansas and other U.S. Attorneys are finding new and creative approaches to beat back the heroin and opioid epidemic. For example:
- The Drug Enforcement Administration has developed its 360 Strategy that combines targeted enforcement with efforts to fight the diversion of prescription opioids and efforts to build community coalitions against drug abuse.
- The Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces runs a National Heroin Initiative that provides seed money to federal prosecutors and agents who come up with new approaches to investigate drug trafficking groups and reduce heroin and opioid deaths.
- The Office of Justice Programs is awarding grants to public health authorities to implement and enhance the use of Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs to help track opioid prescriptions and prevent their abuse.
The President has made clear that addressing the prescription opioid and heroin epidemic is a priority for his Administration, and has proposed to invest $1.1 billion in new funding to make sure that every American with an opioid addiction who seeks treatment can get care. These new investments build on the steps the Administration has been taking to:
- promote evidence-based prevention programs;
- increase access to the overdose-reversal medicine naloxone;
- expand access to treatment, including medication-assisted treatment;
- improve opioid prescribing practices;
- carry out targeted enforcement activities; and
- support the millions of Americans in recovery.
States and communities are also working to save lives through innovative partnerships between public safety and public health. For example, first responders are using naloxone to reverse overdoses and prevent deaths; states are strengthening prescription drug monitoring programs which help detect doctor-shopping and overprescribing of opioids; and the criminal justice community is establishing programs that send people with substance abuse problems to treatment rather than jail.
Recovery from opioid and other controlled substance addictions is possible, and many Americans are able to recover because they get the treatment and care they need. But too many still are not able to get treatment. That’s why the President has called on Congress to provide the resources needed to ensure that every American with an opioid addiction who wants treatment can get it and start the road to recovery. This is an epidemic that can be confronted and defeated, but everyone has a role to play in turning the tide of this epidemic:
- Have a meaningful conversation with your family about the dangers of heroin and opioid abuse.
- Get involved in activities in your community against heroin and opioids. Many communities are hosting public forums, town halls, events at schools, vigils, walks, and similar activities.
- Contact law enforcement if you suspect drug-related activity in your neighborhood.
- If you have prescription opioids in your home, make sure they are safely locked away.
- Take advantage of drug take back days sponsored by the DEA, other law enforcement agencies, and some pharmacy chains to safely dispose of your unneeded prescription opioids.
During Heroin and Opioid Awareness Week, Americans can learn more about addiction, join with community members to support evidence-based prevention and treatment programs, and stand with those suffering from addictions or who are in recovery—to let them know they are not alone.