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U.S. Mayors Shocked by Spike in Heroin Use

Attendees of the 2014 U.S. Conference of Mayors were informed of dismal statistics for the country's major cities.

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By John Lavitt

07/11/14

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The attendees at the 2014 U.S. Conference of Mayors received a stark warning about the dramatic spike in heroin use nationwide since 2007. Driven by plentiful supply smuggled into the country from South America and a simultaneous crackdown on illegally sold prescription painkillers, heroin use increased more than 80% from 2007 to 2012.

The mayors and policy leaders in Dallas were also informed that doctors currently prescribe enough prescription narcotics to medicate everyone in the country 24 hours a day for a month. According to surveys from the Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the number of heroin users incredibly jumped from about 373,000 to 669,000 in 2012 alone. Mayor Ashley Swearengin of Fresno said the increase is “fueled by a growing supply from South America and the crackdown on prescription drug narcotics that has pushed addicts to seek old-fashioned alternatives.”

Michael Botticelli, acting director of National Drug Control Policy for the White House, informed the mayors that 80% of heroin users actually begin the dark spiral into addiction with prescription drugs. He recommended that community leaders and law enforcement agencies work with the public health sector and insurance companies to treat addicts. Although the public desire may still be to punish and imprison, Botticelli explained that “[w]e cannot arrest, prosecute or incarcerate addiction out of people."

Botticelli detailed the Obama administration’s response to the problem as an amalgamation of education, improved prescription drug monitoring, proper medication disposal, and the above mentioned enforcement. Ronald Davis, director of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services in the Justice Department, believes education is the solution for law enforcement as well.

Davis explained the necessity of a measured response to the crisis. “We can’t arrest our way out of it, but there also has to be an accountability measure," he said. "So we can’t avoid that road and we should not. But it should be fair. It should be balanced.”

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