Helping to beat back a deadly scourge

Drug abuse involving prescription opioids and heroin is a serious, escalating problem affecting Nevada and our nation. The epidemic is taking a heartbreaking toll on millions of Americans and their families and straining the resources of law enforcement, health care providers and others.

Two million Americans abused or were dependent on prescription opioids in 2014. In the past two years, we have seen a major uptick and resurgence in the use and abuse of heroin and fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is much stronger than heroin and its derivatives. Overdose deaths involving these substances have nearly quadrupled since 1999. More Americans now die each year from drug overdoses than they do in car crashes or from gunshot injuries. In 2014 more than 27,000 lives were lost to heroin and opioids, and reports from the field indicate those numbers are increasing.

The heroin and opioid problem affects individuals from all sectors of our community. We know this crisis cannot be solved through arrests and prosecutions. It requires a coordinated response across all elements of government and our society.

At the U.S. Department of Justice, we are fighting the heroin and opioid epidemic with a three-pronged approach: prevention, enforcement and treatment. The enforcement prong is aimed at reducing the supply of these deadly substances. Working closely with other federal agencies and our state and local partners, we prosecute street dealers, gang members who sell drugs, dirty doctors and pharmacists, all the way up to the leaders of major cartels who move large quantities of heroin and other opioids into the country. We disrupt and dismantle the organizations that are putting these drugs on our streets.

Our partner, the Drug Enforcement Administration, has developed its 360 Strategy that combines targeted enforcement with efforts to fight the diversion of prescription opioids and efforts to build community coalitions against drug abuse.

The Office of Justice Programs’ Bureau of Justice Assistance is awarding grants to implement and enhance the use of Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs to help track opioid prescriptions and prevent their abuse.

This week has been designated by the president and the U.S. Department of Justice as Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week. Federal prosecutors from the U.S. attorney’s office in Nevada and representatives of the DEA will be traveling to middle schools in Clark County to present information to thousands of students concerning the dangers of these drugs.

Most people are not aware how pervasive opioids have become in our communities. Many people, including students, have become addicted to prescription painkillers following injuries or surgeries. Once the prescription dries up, addicts are turning to heroin, which is injected, smoked and inhaled.

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 25 to 40 times more potent than heroin, is also responsible for an increasing number of deaths.

Fighting the heroin and opioid epidemic will require everyone’s help. There is so much that each of us can do to help beat back this deadly scourge:

— Have a meaningful conversation with your family about the dangers of heroin and opioid abuse. Don’t be fooled into thinking that it can’t happen to you.

— Contact law enforcement if you suspect drug-related activity in your neighborhood.

— If you have prescription opioids in your home, make sure they are safely locked away.

— Take advantage of drug take-back days sponsored by the DEA, other law enforcement agencies and some pharmacies to safely dispose of your unneeded prescription opioids.

This is an epidemic that we can confront and defeat. Our hard-working medical and law enforcement personnel, working closely with communities and concerned men and women in every state, can save the lives of thousands of our fellow citizens and end this terrible scourge.

Daniel G. Bogden is U.S. attorney for the District of Nevada.

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