President Barack Obama has vowed to federal programs to combat the "epidemic" of heroin use and prescription painkiller abuse across the country.
"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. "That's the thing about substance abuse; it doesn't discriminate. It touches everybody."
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 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 say two factors are driving the trend: the rise in abuse of opioid painkillers -- drugs that are often a precursor to heroin -- and the increasing availability of cheap heroin.
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.
Experts say few prescription drug health care providers are properly trained to safely prescribe painkillers, while access to medication-assisted treatment for addicts is too difficult.
The White House has proposed $133 million for new treatment programs. The administration also wants to expand access to medications that can help addicts transition off other opioids, and has also pushed to expand availability of naloxone, a drug that can reverse overdoses.