By Julia Edwards
EDGARTOWN, Mass. (Reuters) - The White House announced a new strategy on Monday to tackle the explosion in heroin use in a collection of eastern states, focusing on treating addicts rather than punishing them and targeting high-level suppliers for arrest.
The move is a response to a sharp rise in the use of heroin and opiate-based painkillers, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has described as an epidemic.
Heroin use has more than doubled among people aged 18-25 in the United States in the past decade, according to CDC figures, while overdose death rates have nearly quadrupled. An estimated 45 percent of U.S. heroin users are also addicted to prescription painkillers.
Announcing the 'Heroin Response Strategy' on Monday, Michael Botticelli, Director of National Drug Control Policy, said the new plan will address the heroin and painkiller epidemics as both "a public health and a public safety issue."
Under the plan, $2.5 million of $13.4 million in new funding to combat drug trafficking will target regions the White House said are facing a severe heroin threat: Appalachia, New England, New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and Baltimore.
The Obama administration will work with local law enforcement to increase access to treatment for addicts and try to trace the sources of heroin trafficking.
The policy is in line with new criminal justice strategies that seek to treat more drug offenders as addicts within the public health system rather than as criminals who must serve long sentences in jail.
Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio and Democrat Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island have pushed for such policies for more than a year in Congress.
(Reporting By Julia Edwards; Editing by Bill Rigby)