As heroin overdoses and deaths soar in many places, the White House today will announce an initiative that will pair public health and law enforcement in an effort to shift the emphasis from punishment to the treatment of addicts, the Washington Posts reports. The experiment, initially funded for one year in 15 states, will pair drug intelligence officers with public health coordinators to trace where heroin is coming from, how and where it is being laced with a deadly additive, and who is distributing it to street-level dealers. The new program is a response to a steep increase in heroin use and deaths in much of the nation, especially in New England and some other Northeastern states. The death rate from overdoses has quadrupled in the past decade, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
From local police to federal law enforcement agencies, two frustrations in the battle against the spread of heroin have been an inability to get solid, timely information about where the drug is coming from and who is distributing it, and ignorance among first responders about how to recognize and handle overdoses. The new effort, proposed by the New York/New Jersey High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, one of 28 such federally funded law enforcement initiatives, seeks to address the problems by hiring 15 drug intelligence officers and 15 health policy analysts who will collect overdose data, find patterns and get intelligence about trafficking trends to street-level law enforcement far more quickly than the current system allows. In addition, the initiative will train first responders on when and how to use medication that can reverse opioid overdoses.