Obama announces new steps to fight painkiller epidemic

US President Barack Obama speaks as he attends a panel discussion with Justin Riley, 28, President and CEO of Young People in Recovery, at the National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit on March 29, 2016 in Atlanta (AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm)
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Washington (AFP) - US President Barack Obama on Tuesday announced new plans to combat the epidemic of heroin and prescription painkiller abuse which kills tens of thousands of people each year in the United States.

About a dozen funding measures and initiatives were detailed by the White House nearly two weeks after the US Centers for Disease Control urged doctors to exercise more caution prescribing opioids, which can be highly addictive and have led to soaring overdose deaths in recent years.

Forty Americans die each day from prescription opioid overdoses, according to the CDC.

Obama was to describe the new measures -- which include easier access to the overdose antidote naloxone, money for community policing and improved access to mental health services -- at the National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta, Georgia on Tuesday.

"These actions build on the President's proposal for $1.1 billion in new funding to help every American with an opioid use disorder who wants treatment get the help they need," said a statement released by the White House ahead of the event.

The plan includes two $11 million funding opportunities. One is for states to purchase and distribute the opioid overdose reversal drug, naloxone, and the other to boost medication-assisted treatment services in up to 11 states by increasing access to buprenorphine, which can help addicts wean off heroin or painkillers.

Earlier this month, the US Department of Health and Human Services released $94 million in new funding "to increase substance use disorder treatment services, with a specific focus on expanding medication-assisted treatment of opioid use disorders in underserved communities," it said.

"This funding is expected to help health centers treat nearly 124,000 new patients with substance use disorders."

Other steps include establishing a Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Parity Task Force "to advance access to mental health and substance use disorder treatment."

Policing programs and rural health initiatives were also included in the funding plans.

New guidance for government-funded needle exchange programs will be issued by the Department of Health and Human Services to "implement or expand syringe services programs for people who inject drugs," it said.

The bipartisan budget agreement signed last year "revised a longstanding ban on these programs and allows communities with a demonstrated need to use federal funds for the operational components of syringe services programs," said the White House statement.

More than 60 medical schools were also to announce changes in their curricula beginning in the fall that would "require their students to take some form of prescriber education," in line with the latest CDC guidelines.

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