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Wednesday
Apr162014

AG Eric Holder Highlights Heroin Death Epidemic

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Attorney General Eric Holder Wednesday told a group of police leaders it is time for street cops to start carrying the drug Narcan that can reverse deadly heroin overdoses. And this time the police, facing a rising number of overdose deaths, agreed.
 
Police around the country are seeing a dramatic increase in the number of deaths linked to overdoses of heroin and opiate prescription drugs. The recent heroin overdose death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman has focused attention on the issue. Police are dealing with more deaths from overdoses than from murders.
 
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says prescription drug and heroin fatalities in the U.S. surpass homicides and traffic deaths. After cancer and heart disease, overdoses are said to be the number-one killer in the United States. In New London and Norwich, Conn., for example, heroin overdoses doubled last year.
 
It’s not just heroin. Most of the overdose deaths come from prescription opiate painkillers. In 2010 about 100 Americans died every day from drug overdoses. Prescription painkillers were involved in more than 16,600 deaths in 2010, and heroin was involved in about 3,000 deaths, according to the White House.
 
Holder told the Police Executive Research Forum he once associated heroin with the 50s and 60s. There's no question it's an issue we have to deal with, he said. This problem has resurfaced, he said; it is truly a national problem.
 
There clearly has to be a law enforcement response, he told the group, but we also have to view this as a public health problem as well.  Young people can't view this as a risk-free drug, he said. If we shine light on the problem we can have a significant impact on making sure it doesn't get worse and reduce the number of people involved.
 
He told the police leaders, we should spread the word about Narcan, the drug that can reverse a heroin overdose, and make it as widely available as possible.  He believed making the drug available did not amount to enabling. It is our job to keep as many people alive as possible, he said. The emphasis should be on safety and life and we can handle the things that might give people pause.
 
Holder admitted the overdose epidemic took a lot of people by surprise. This kind of sneaked up on us, he told the group. The consciousness of the nation had not really focused on the problem. People saw it as something that was localized. We focus a lot as a nation on drugs that are sold on the streets, Holder said. Things that come out of our medicine cabinets such as opiate drugs don't generate as much fear. That has a dulling effect.
 
Standing by itself the heroine problem is worthy of our national attention, he said. We have to hold those accountable who trade in it.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio