U.S. Justice Dept to push prosecutors on opioid crisis: USA Today

September 16, 2016 9:44 AM EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department will enlist federal prosecutors to help fight the nation's opioid crisis by sharing information on overprescribing doctors and coordinating with public health officials to address addiction, USA Today reported on Friday.

"You can't just have an enforcement strategy alone," Attorney General Loretta Lynch told the newspaper in an interview. She said the department would issue the new plan next week in a memo to its 94 U.S. attorney offices.

Lynch said sharing information about physicians tied to prescription drug abuse could help authorities better identify drug traffickers and the routes they use, the report said, adding that working with local health officials will help give equal attention to prevention and treatment efforts.

"There is no one magic bullet for this," Lynch told USA Today.

Justice Department representatives could not be immediately reached to confirm the report.

The effort is a final push during the waning months of the Obama administration to address the opioid crisis, which has hit certain states such as New Hampshire and West Virginia particularly hard and has surfaced as an issue in the November presidential election.

Overdose deaths tied to opiates have skyrocketed in recent years in a widening epidemic involving growing abuse of heroin as well as prescription painkillers such as Vicodin, OxyContin and Percocet.

The number of these deaths quadrupled to nearly 28,700 in 2014 from 2000, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

Efforts to turn the tide have fallen short, pressuring local law enforcement and policymakers at every level to find a solution.

Democrats in Congress have been pushing for money to implement legislation passed earlier this year to fight heroin addiction, making it a topic of negotiation, though not a main issue, in efforts to keep the government running after Sept. 30.

President Barack Obama earlier this year pledged to expand treatment for people addicted to such drugs, offering states more money to treat addition and make available the overdose antidote called naloxone.

In July, Obama signed a bipartisan measure into law aimed at protecting drug-dependent newborns and assisting their parents.

U.S. health regulators in recent weeks also strengthened warnings about opioids as part of their broader plan to reduce the number of deaths from abuse of these drugs, calling it a public health crisis.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has outlined her plan to tackle addiction, while her Republican rival, Donald Trump, has also highlighted the issue on the campaign trail.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)



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