(CNSNews.com) - Between 2006 and 2010, heroin overdose deaths in the United States increased by 45 percent -- a "tragic" development stemming from the "significant increase" in prescription drug abuse, Attorney General Eric Holder told a law enforcement gathering on Wednesday.
In addition to "vigorous" law enforcement, Holder is urging more education, prevention, and treatment. And he called on "all first responders, including state and local law enforcement agencies, to train and equip their men and women on the front lines to use the overdose-reversal drug called naloxone."
The prescription drug, also known as narcan, sells for about $22 per syringe online. Since 2001, it's been used in 17 states and the District of Columbia to reverse 10,000 overdoses, Holder said.
"And I urge state policymakers and local leaders throughout the nation to take additional steps to increase the availability of naloxone among first responders -- so we can provide lifesaving aid to more and more of those who need it."
The Affordable Care Act includes substance abuse treatment as one of the ten elements of essential health benefits. This means that all health insurance sold on Health Insurance Exchanges or provided by Medicaid must include services for "substance use disorders," as it is phrased by the White House.
The day before Holder spoke, U.S. Border Patrol officers in El Paso, Texas seized 17.7 pounds of heroin, worth $566,400 on the streets, from a car entering this country from Mexico. Also on April 15, the Border Patrol found 1.79 pounds of heroin ($70,000 street value) in the underwear of a man from Trinidad and Tobago arriving at JFK Airport in New York. Drug seizures, some very large, are a daily occurrence for the U.S. Border Patrol.
Holder told the police group on Wednesday that his Justice Department wants to make sure that "limited public safety resources" are spent on "the most dangerous types of drugs and the most serious drug offenses."
Last year, Holder announced a major change in federal sentencing policy, telling federal prosecutors to stop charging nonviolenct drug offenders with crimes that carry mandatory minimum sentences. He said he wants to divert people convicted of low-level offenses to drug treatment and community service programs.