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White House Proposes $1 Billion Fund To Combat Opioid Abuse


Here's a startling statistic. Every day in America, more than 50 people die from an overdose of prescription pain medication. Some drug users who start out with pain pills later turn to heroin, which claims another 29 lives each day. President Obama plans to ask lawmakers for hundreds of millions of dollars to combat this epidemic when he releases his budget next week. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Most of the money the president's asking for would pay to expand treatment to help people kick the opioid habit. White House Drug Czar Michael Botticelli say while the patchwork of treatment programs around the country has the capacity to serve about 1 million people, the number of addicts who need help is more than double that.

MICHAEL BOTTICELLI: We've heard countless stories about people who encounter long waiting lines to get into treatment to find a bed - one of the things that's really important when people reach out for help with addiction, which often can be a challenge. And we want to get to a point where we have treatment on demand.

HORSLEY: The president's also calling for more training of doctors in how to safely prescribe pain medication, more monitoring of the way patient use those drugs and more access to the life-saving emergency medicine naloxone, which can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. Congress is likely to ignore most of the president's budget requests, but his opioid prescription could be an exception. Heartfelt stories of addiction have turned up frequently on the presidential campaign trail, helping to raise the profile of the problem, and Botticelli says it cuts across racial, economic and party lines.

BOTTICELLI: I've been doing this work for a long time, and it's hard to find a family these days that hasn't been impacted by this. And I think that has profoundly moved not only the president but people in Congress, who - to do more work on it.

HORSLEY: Opioid abuse is one of the topics Obama discussed with Republican congressional leaders at the White House this morning. And later this week, a Senate committee is set to consider a bipartisan bill that echoes many of the elements in the president's budget request. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.