ROANOKE, Va. — Closely mirroring its past positions, the Obama administration’s 2014 drug policy will focus tightly on curbing heroin use and prescription painkillers abuse while continuing to oppose the legalization of marijuana for medical and recreational use.
Officials are particularly concerned about preventing fatal overdoses, said Michael Botticelli, acting director of the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy. He outlined the administration’s blueprint at a news conference Wednesday at a drug treatment facility in Roanoke.
He acknowledged that the strategy does not substantially differ from past drug policy positions but said the White House is now focused “in-depth” on the problem associated with the abuse of opioids, which include heroin and painkillers.
“With the reports of increasing heroin use in many American communities, including right here in Virginia, we are growing increasingly concerned by the potential transition from prescription opioid abuse to heroin and injected drug use,” Botticelli said.
In March, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called the increase in heroin-related deaths an urgent health crisis and said first responders should carry Narcan, an overdose reversal drug. This year, actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died from a toxic mix of drugs including heroin and cocaine. In 2013, “Glee” actor Cory Monteith died of an overdose of heroin and alcohol.
Gail Burress, director of adult clinical services at Roanoke’s Blue Ridge Behavioral Healthcare, where Wednesday’s news conference was held, said there’s been a “tremendous escalation” of heroin use in town, including among teenagers.
“It’s risk-taking at a new level,” she said.
Botticelli said he traveled to Roanoke to highlight its comprehensive efforts to curb drug abuse. He noted that Roanoke had the first drug court in Virginia and praised the city’s police chief for implementing a program that allows first-time, non-violent drug offenders to avoid prison.
The news conference came one day after Washington became the second state, after Colorado, to allow people to buy recreational marijuana legally.
Botticelli said the White House’s opposition to medicinal and recreational marijuana remains unchanged.
“Because quite honestly it sends the wrong message to our youth,” he said.