Obama to declare new steps against heroin, opioid epidemic

US President Barack Obama set to announce steps to expand treatment for people addicted to heroin and prescription painkillers

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

US President Barack Obama delivers the keynote address at the awards dinner for Syracuse University's Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington March 28, 2016.

Updated Mar 31, 2016

US President Barack Obama is set to announce steps on Tuesday to expand treatment for people addicted to heroin and prescription painkillers, the White House said.

Obama will travel to a summit conference in Atlanta to meet addicts in recovery, family members, medical professionals and law enforcement to discuss the opioid epidemic, which has been an issue in the 2016 presidential election campaign.

In 2014, a high number of Americans died due to drug overdoses, with the highest rates seen in West Virginia, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Kentucky and Ohio.

There were 47,055 drug overdose deaths in 2014 in the United States according to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention(CDCP).

The White House stated Obama would announce $11 million in grants for up to 11 states to expand medication-assisted treatment and another $11 million for states to buy and distribute naloxone, an overdose drug.

"There are 2.2 million Americans who need treatment for opioid abuse, but only about 1 million people are receiving help," Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell had previously said in a conference call.

The Health and Human Services Department (HHS)  will also propose a new rule for buprenorphine, a medication used to help addicted people reduce or quit their use of heroin or painkillers.

Lisa Cote Johns, (C), whose son died of a heroin overdose, embraces another parent during a family addiction support group on March 23, 2016 in Groton, CT, US. [AFP]

The rule would allow doctors who are qualified to prescribe the medication to double their patient limit to 200. The White House claimed that measure would expand treatment for many people.

"I hear again and again that we need to continue to expand access to effective treatment for substance abuse disorders," Michael Botticelli, the White House director of National Drug Control Policy, told reporters.

Obama is preparing to proclaim a new task force to make sure private health plans have "equality" or wider coverage for substance use treatment and mental health services.

HHS will also finalise a rule for equality for substance use and mental health treatment for people with low incomes enrolled in Medicaid and the federal Children's Health Insurance Program, the White House said.

This rule could help more than 23 million people gain access to treatment.

The United States has seen an increase of 137 percent in overdose deaths since 2000, including a 200 percent increase in the rate of opioids-related deaths according to the report published by the same institution.  

Obama earlier this year asked the US Congress for $1.1 billion in new funding over two years to expand treatment for the opioid epidemic.

TRTWorld and agencies