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The White House
For Immediate Release

Acting Director Botticelli Opening Remarks: June 19th Summit on Opioids

Acting Director Michael Botticelli
Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse Summit
June 19, 2014

Thank you all for joining us today for this important issue.

First, I’d like to thank Attorney General Holder for being with us this morning. Attorney General Holder is a strong partner in our work to reform drug policy. Thanks to your leadership, the United States is leading the world in pursuing a drug policy that’s smart on crime, not just tough on crime.

Your support for expanding the use of naloxone, overhauling mandatory minimum sentences, reducing barriers to employment, housing, and education for justice-involved individuals is making a difference. So, thank you, and we look forward to hearing from you today.

Vermont Governor Shumlin is also with us today. As many of you already know, Governor Shumlin dedicated his “State of the State” address this year to the serious challenge of opioid abuse in Vermont, kick-starting unprecedented efforts in his state to address this challenge and helping to increase awareness of the issue nationally.

Governor Shumlin understands that this is something many communities have been dealing with for a very long time – and that we are not powerless to make a difference. Thank you, Governor, for being here and for working so hard to save lives.

Dr. Nora Volkow from the National Institutes of Health is with us and is a national leader in the field of addiction research. We are very fortunate to have her with us today to share the latest research and outline the public health effects of this epidemic.  

The abuse of opioids – a group of drugs that includes heroin and prescription painkillers – is having a devastating impact on public health and safety in communities across the Nation.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdose deaths now surpass traffic crashes in the number of injury deaths in America.  In 2011, an average of about 110 Americans died from overdose every day. Prescription painkillers were involved in nearly 17,000 deaths that year, and heroin was involved in more than 4,000.

But as shocking as these statistics are, they pale in comparison to the stories of individual families and communities who have lost loved ones to this epidemic. The slide behind me shows the faces of just a fraction of the bright, talented Americans this epidemic has taken away from us.  The lives that are lost are our friends, family members. They’re our neighbors and co-workers, and they served in our Armed Forces.

One of the most difficult parts of my job is meeting with parents who have lost loved ones to substance use.  It’s never easy.  And perhaps the most painful thing is knowing that every overdose death in America is preventable.

As Dr. Volkow will share, substance use disorders can be prevented, treated, and recovered from – just like any other chronic disease.  Prevention works.  Treatment works. Reforming the criminal justice system to break the cycle of drug use, crime, and incarceration works.  Let me just give you one example. Just a few weeks ago, two New York City Police officers on Staten Island administered a nasal naloxone spray to save a 29 year old man’s life. This is the sixth time this year that police officers on Staten Island have used naloxone – a medicine that can reverse opioid overdoes – to revive a victim.

The NYPD’s decision to put naloxone in the hands of police officers began with a pilot program on Staten Island supported by ONDCP and funded, in part by ONDCP’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program.  Law enforcement, together with public health professionals are making a difference in reducing this epidemic.

I don’t want to speak for very long so that we can hear from the distinguished panels that have been pulled together for this discussion. So before turning this over I’d like to let you know what we hope to accomplish today.

First, I hope this meeting will build on the work that Gov. Shumlin and others have done to spur action at the state and local level to support a more holistic approach to this epidemic. As has been said many times, we cannot arrest our way out of the drug problem.

By taking evidence-based steps – such as expanding drug education for young people, training doctors on proper opioid prescribing practices, intervening and providing treatment before a substance use disorder becomes chronic, improving access to medication-assisted treatment, and expanding recovery services – we can save lives.

And I hope that the experiences and expertise of everyone in this room will serve as a resource to other communities looking for ways to address this challenge.

Second, I hope we can take advantage of where we are today to dive deeper into the issues surrounding this epidemic.  Beyond overdose, for example, what is the effect of this epidemic on the spread of infectious disease?  How can we make sure that our response is coordinated – not just at the Federal level, but also at the state and local levels – to address other consequences of opioid abuse, including the spread of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis?

Third, we must be mindful of the interconnectedness between prescription drug abuse and heroin use.  It is impossible to understand our Nation’s heroin challenge without also understanding our prescription drug abuse challenge. How can we apply solutions that address both?

Finally, how do we adapt to the changing nature of this epidemic?  In 2011, we released the President’s Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Plan for responding to the prescription drug abuse epidemic. Three years later, opioid abuse is spreading to different users – particularly young people. How can we work together to get ahead of these trends?

Let me close by reminding everyone that – despite the seriousness of the public health emergency we face – we can be smarter about how we address it. A smart public health approach requires us to catch the signs and symptoms of substance use earlier – before it develops into a chronic disorder.

That is why the Administration is dramatically expanding access to drug treatment through the Affordable Care Act. That’s why we’re working to educate doctors on proper prescribing practices for prescription painkillers.  That’s why we encourage Americans to properly dispose of unneeded or expired prescription medications.  And why the Department of Justice closed down so many “pill mills” in Florida and continues to work hard to make sure they don’t relocate to other states.

But we can’t stop there. As I said earlier, it is important that we understand the trends so we can stay in front of them.  And that we identify best practices to address the epidemic. 

With that, I would now like to introduce Attorney General Holder.