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Halt the heroin use epidemic

With heroin overdose deaths nearly quadrupling in the United States over the last decade, the federal government is finally making an attempt to combat the epidemic of heroin use and painkiller abuse.

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama vowed to use federal programs to battle the issue and take the drug abuse problem to a national level.

“This crisis is taking lives; it’s destroying families and shattering communities all across the country,” Obama said at a panel discussion on opioid drug abuse in West Virginia. “That’s the thing about substance abuse; it doesn’t discriminate. It touches everybody.”

West Virginia has the highest rate of overdose deaths in the U.S. — more than twice the national average, according to a report by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released in July found the number of people who reported using heroin within the past year had nearly doubled from 2002 to 2013. Heroin use was up among nearly all demographic groups, but showed particular spikes among women and non-Latino whites.

Researchers found that most users reported using at least one other drug in combination with heroin, which contributes to high overdose rates. Between 2002 and 2013, the rate of heroin-related overdose deaths nearly quadrupled, and more than 8,200 people — by some estimates, one in every 50 addicts — died in 2013, according to the CDC.

In Mississippi, heroin deaths are on track to reach 26 by year’s end. Several years ago, the state averaged one death per year from heroin overdoses.

The White House also announced commitments from the Fraternal Order of Police to expand training on the use of naloxone. Several pharmacy chains, including CVS and RiteAid, have also agreed to expand accessibility of the drug.

Media companies, including CBS, Turner Broadcasting, ABC, The New York Times and Google, also have committed more than $20 million in advertising space to run public service announcements on the issue.

Statistics show that more Americans die annually from drug overdoses — most of them prescription drug overdoses — than from car accidents.

Drug addiction impacts the lives directly and indirectly of all Americans and it’s about time the federal government took the issue of prescription painkiller abuse and heroin, which once had the stigma of an inner-city drug, seriously as they infiltrate the suburbs of our nation.