Last fall, I listened as a mother named Cary Dixon told her family’s story at a forum I convened in West Virginia. It was heartbreaking. Cary’s adult son has struggled with a substance use disorder for years, and she described the pain that families like hers have gone through.
“We dread the next phone call,” she said. “We don’t take vacations for fear of the next crisis. We come back from vacations because there’s a crisis.”
Cary and her family are far from alone. As the use of prescription drugs has increased over the past 15 or 20 years, so has their misuse — as well as the wreckage caused by other opioids like heroin. In fact, 4 in 5 heroin users started out by misusing prescription drugs and then switched to heroin.
As a consequence, between 2002 and 2013, the rate of heroin-related deaths in America nearly quadrupled. More Americans now die of drug overdoses than they do in motor vehicle crashes. In Louisiana, overdoses claimed 777 lives in 2014 alone.
This crisis doesn’t discriminate. It touches everybody — men and women, young and old, rich and poor, urban, suburban and rural alike.
It affects the coal miner or construction worker who takes pain medications for a work-related injury — or the doctor who writes them the prescription.
Yet for too long, the stigma of addiction has discouraged too many Americans from seeking and receiving the help they deserve. With no other disease do we expect people to wait until they’re a danger to themselves or others to self-diagnose and seek treatment.
So we need to address this disease like we would any other — through effective prevention and treatment. We need to educate ourselves, our family members and our communities about the dangers of prescription drug misuse as well as the availability of treatment and the hope of recovery. And we need to make sure every American seeking treatment can get it.
That’s why I’ve directed my administration to address this crisis. We’ve been working with communities to prevent and treat substance use disorders, pursue effective law enforcement strategies, reduce overdose deaths and support those in recovery. And in October, I announced plans to train more federal health care workers who prescribe opioids, identify barriers to good treatment and rally support from outside of government to help address this epidemic.
But we need to do more to help families like Cary’s. That’s why the budget I’m sending to Congress includes $1.1 billion in new funding to stop the opioid overdose epidemic — funding to help every American seeking treatment get the care they need. It will help states like Louisiana expand their treatment capacity and make services more affordable.
My budget will continue to support education, prevention, drug monitoring programs and law enforcement efforts to keep illegal drugs out of our communities. And finally, it will improve access to the overdose-reversal drug naloxone — so that we can save more lives.
These are common-sense steps — steps to help Americans get the treatment they need, support law enforcement already stretching their resources and support families and communities ravaged by this disease. I’m encouraged by the bipartisan support we’ve seen from leaders across the country on this issue, and I expect Congress to act.
Because rather than keep spending billions of taxpayer dollars on overly long prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, we can save money, improve public safety and achieve better outcomes by focusing on getting treatment to those who need it.
This is a crisis that could touch any of us. These kids are our kids. These folks are our parents, our brothers and sisters, our neighbors and friends. We should treat them that way.
We should take on this issue for their sake. And if we do that, we’ll not only help our loved ones, we’ll help strengthen our families, our community and our entire country.
Barack Obama is president of the United States.