White House earmarking over $1B for heroin and painkiller treatment

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WASHINGTON D.C. – President Obama's Secretary for Health and Human Services--Sylvia Matthews Burwell--joined the Director of National Drug Control Policy on a conference call with reporters Tuesday, announcing the White House is earmarking more than one billion dollars in Fiscal Year 2017 for the treatment of opioid addiction--which has reached crisis levels in the United States. 

Many opioid users start with prescription painkiller abuse and then move on to heroin, which is in the same class of drugs and produces a similar, euphoric high.

New data released by the Centers for Disease Control showed 28,648 deaths in 2014 related to prescription medication or heroin overdoses.  More people are fatally overdosing from opioids now than dying in motor vehicle accidents on an annual basis.  

The Cabinet Secretary revealed Tuesday 2.2 million Americans need treatment for opioid addiction but only 1 million are currently receiving it.

President Obama had focused on the heroin crisis in his recent State of the Union and Secretary Burwell said Tuesday the Administration is "addressing the needs of the country at a certain moment in time."

PIX 11 News has been reporting on the opioid crisis since 2009, when we first looked at an alarming trend of heroin overdoses among high school students in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Our two part special report in October 2009, called "Heroin High," was honored with an Emmy award.

Since then, we have watched the prescription painkiller/heroin crisis explode in the five boroughs, especially Staten Island, as well as invading the Hudson Valley and many parts of New Jersey.

Our six-part series, "Heroin, A to Z," was broadcast in November 2014 and remains on our website at pix11.com/heroin.

At one point during Tuesday's telephone press conference, the New York Times asked Michael Botticelli, Director of National Drug Control Policy, and Secretary Burwell, if the Obama Administration felt any responsibility for the opioid crisis that intensified under its watch these last, 7 years. Director Botticelli responded that prescription drug use and overdoses were "actually down among youth."

Nationally, fatal heroin overdose rates tripled between 2011 and 2013.

4 in 5 heroin users START on the drug after using prescription painkillers first.

Pharmacies in New York State and New Jersey are now selling an antidote called naloxone (Narcan) over-the-counter--which can reverse a potentially fatal opioid overdose.