Attorney General Eric Holder promised Monday to address the recent rise in heroin overdoses with enhanced enforcement and treatment initiatives in his weekly video address.
Heroin overdose deaths increased by 45 percent between 2004 and 2010. Holder called the rise an "urgent public health crisis," asserting the Justice Department's commitment to confronting the issue head on.
"Addiction to heroin and other opiates -– including certain prescription painkillers –- is impacting the lives of Americans in every state, in every region, and from every background and walk of life -– and all too often, with deadly results," Holder said.
"Confronting this crisis will require a combination of enforcement and treatment. The Justice Department is committed to both."
Holder pledged improved law enforcement efforts, saying the Drug Enforcement Administration is adopting new tactics to target all levels of the drug supply chain, and plans to review applications for new pharmacies to "prevent storefront drug traffickers from obtaining DEA registrations."
Partnering with doctors, educators and law enforcement officials will boost efforts to educate the public and improve treatment, Holder said. First responders are also being urged to carry naloxone, an overdose-reversal drug that restores breathing to an individual having overdosed on heroin or opioid. Since 2001, the drug has reversed more than 10,000 overdose incidents.
The attorney general said the recent rise in heroin overdoses could be attributed to an increase in prescription drug abuse.
"Scientific studies, federal, state and local investigations, addiction treatment providers, and victims reveal that the cycle of heroin abuse commonly begins with prescription opiate abuse. The transition to -- and increase in -- heroin abuse is a sad but not unpredictable symptom of the significant increase in prescription drug abuse we’ve seen over the past decade."