Treatment over punishment, and more: The White House's new plan to combat heroin use

Initiative aims to address problem 'both a public health and a public safety issue'

The Obama administration on Monday announced an initiative that aims to curb growing heroin use, in part by focusing more on treating addiction than punishing heroin users.

The announcement comes as heroin use has spiked in recent years, in part because of increased misuse of prescription painkillers.

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According to a CDC and FDA report released last month, there were as many as 8,200 heroin overdose deaths in 2013—double the amount from 2011, and nearly quadruple the amount from 2002. And researchers found that more than 500,000 U.S. residents used or were addicted to heroin in 2013, an increase of almost 150% since 2007.

Plan details

The White House announced $5 million in funding to combat heroin use and trafficking, $2.5 million of which will go toward a new initiative that emphasizes treating addiction over punishing heroin users.

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Specifically, the initiative will focus on creating new partnerships between public health coordinators and drug intelligence officers in 15 states in the Northeast and in Appalachia.

The officials will work to locate heroin suppliers and distributors, and will collect data on overdoses and look for patterns to identify drug trafficking trends. In addition, they will use the information to pinpoint locations where heroin is laced with other dangerous substances, such as fentanyl, which has been linked to a spike in overdose deaths.

The initiative will also provide training to first responders on how and when they should use medications, such as naloxone, that can counter the effects of opioid overdoses.

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The plan aims to address "the heroin and prescription opioid epidemic as both a public health and a public safety issue," says Michael Botticelli, the director of National Drug Control Policy.

A law enforcement official told Reuters that the initiative will help to reduce crime and decrease "the number of people who end up in emergency [departments]" (Fisher, Washington Post, 8/16; Cooney, Reuters, 8/16; Koren, The Atlantic, 8/17).

Three patient types key to population health success


What are the critical components that separate successful population health managers from the pack? Members often ask us this question, and we've found that the answer often lies in the organization's approach to care management.

Population health management is not about managing one population. It’s about managing three—and each requires different goals, resources, and care models.


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