US Attorney General Eric Holder today warned that the ongoing rise in heroin-related deaths has become an "urgent and growing public health crisis." In a press release, Holder said the Justice Department plans to ramp up efforts to save lives through more vigorous enforcement and treatment efforts. But he also wants to make sure that first responders have the necessary resources to prevent tragedy wherever and whenever possible. To help better those odds, Holder is calling on law enforcement agencies to train and equip emergency personnel with naloxone, a drug capable of reversing deadly overdoses when administered in a timely fashion.
"It makes sense to focus attention on the most dangerous types of drugs."
In a video message posted on the Justice Department website, Holder calls out some alarming facts: between 2006 and 2010, heroin overdose deaths increased by 45 percent. As just one example of that devastation, Holder points to the story of Will Gates — a University of Vermont student who suffered a fatal overdose in 2009. Gates' family went on to produce The Opiate Effect, a combination documentary and public service announcement that underlines the dangers of opiate abuse. On the topic of law enforcement policy, Holder notes that heroin seizures along the Mexican border climbed more than 320 percent between 2008 and 2013. He claims the Justice Department will continue to "attack all levels of the supply chain to prevent pharmaceutical controlled substances from getting into the hands of non-medical users."
Notably, one name totally absent from today's press release is Philip Seymour Hoffman. The actor, widely considered to be among the greatest of his generation, was found dead in his Manhattan apartment last month. An "acute mixed drug intoxication" that included heroin, cocaine, benzodiazepines, and amphetamine led to Hoffman's death. But with his sudden passing still fresh in the minds of many, the timing of today's urgent call to action is likely no coincidence — even if Hoffman is never mentioned directly.