WASHINGTON – Michael Botticelli, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, told a Congressional panel Wednesday that overdoses from heroin and prescription opioids is the most urgent concern facing his agency.
“There is no more pressing issue,” said Botticelli, who testified at a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee hearing on the nation’s drug policy.
Botticelli said that more than 8,000 people died from heroin overdoses in 2013, the last year for which statistics are available. He expects that 2014 statistics will be released later this month showing a substantial increase.
The heroin epidemic, he said, comes even as federal, state and local efforts have begun to make some headway against abuse of prescription painkillers. Those efforts have included reducing over prescribing of pain killers, state-based prescription monitoring programs, greater coordination of law enforcement efforts to reduce the supply of illicit drugs, and more treatment resources.
“We have seen a reduction in prescription-drug misuse among young adults but that has been replaced by a significant increase in heroin overdose deaths,” Botticelli said. “We know some of this is related to the vast supply of very cheap, very pure heroin in parts of the country where we haven’t seen it before.”
Botticelli served as director of substance abuse services in Massachusetts from 2003 to 2012. During that time he oversaw Quincy’s pilot program for police carrying naloxone to treat opioid overdoses, which has become a national model.