(USA TODAY/Gregory Korte) — The Obama administration launched a week-long blitz on the heroin and opioid addiction crisis Monday, announcing new initiatives and calling on Congress to fully fund the effort with $1.1 billion.
President Obama has proclaimed the week Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week — a usually symbolic designation that's being backed up with a week-long series of speeches and policy announcements across the federal government.
"This epidemic that we are in the grips of is taking a heartbreaking toll on American families," said Attorney General Loretta Lynch. "We are in the midst of an epidemic, and sadly no one is immune, no individual, no family, no community."
Lynch will headline a roster of administration officials crisscrossing the country this week to promote awareness of the issue. She'll travel to Lexington Ky. Tuesday, where she'll hold a student town hall at a high school, meet with parents of overdose victims, and deliver a policy speech at the University of Kentucky.
The attorney general previewed those policies last week in an interview with USA TODAY, saying she would instruct her 94 U.S. attorneys to share information about prescription drug abuse across state lines, coordinate enforcement with public health authorities, and emphasize prevention and treatment in addition to enforcement.
The Obama administration response will also involve initiatives from the Justice Department's organized crime task force, the Bureau of Prisons, and even the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
"It can and does happen to families in every economic strata, every race, and every location," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. But in rural areas, "when that magic moment happens when they seek help and treatment, it’s not available."
The United States has about 1,000 behavioral service centers capable of treating heroin addiction in the United States, he said, but only 25 are located in rural areas.
So Vilsack said the USDA will spend $4.7 million on a telemedicine program that will allow 18 additional sites to expand access to substance use treatment by having patients consult with specialists remotely.
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