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March 10, 2014

Holder: Heroin deaths an 'urgent and growing public health crisis'

By Philip Rucker
The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Eric Holder, calling the rise in deaths from overdoses of heroin and prescription painkillers an "urgent and growing public health crisis," is outlining a series of efforts by the Justice Department to combat the epidemic.

At a time of growing public acceptance of marijuana use, Holder is drawing attention to the negative consequences of heroin. In a video message released early Monday, Holder said heroin overdose deaths increased by 45 percent between 2006 and 2010.

"When confronting the problem of substance abuse, it makes sense to focus attention on the most dangerous types of drugs," Holder said. "And right now, few substances are more lethal than prescription opiates and heroin."

Holder added, "Addiction to heroin and other opiates — including certain prescription painkillers — is impacting the lives of Americans in every state, in every region, and from every background and walk of life — and all too often, with deadly results."

Holder said Justice Department officials, including those in the Drug Enforcement Administration, and other federal, state and local leaders are working "aggressively" to keep heroin and other illicit drugs off the streets and bring traffickers to justice.

Since 2011, the DEA has opened more than 4,500 heroin-related investigations, Holder said, and as a result the amount of heroin seized along the country's southwest border with Mexico increased by more than 320 percent over the past five years.

Holder also said the DEA is expanding its education programs for pharmacists, doctors and other health-care providers and urging first responders to carry naloxone, a drug that when administered quickly can restore breathing to somebody suffering from a heroin overdose. Seventeen states and the District have amended their laws in recent years to increase access to naloxone, the Justice Department said.