WASHINGTON, Feb. 2 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama on Tuesday proposed $1.1 billion in funding to combat the abuse of prescription opioids and heroin amid a nationwide addiction crisis.
The 2017 budget proposal will establish new discretionary and mandatory funding over two years to ensure Americans struggling with addiction who want help can receive treatment, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said during a conference call with reporters.
Burwell said the opioid epidemic is a complicated problem, which requires a comprehensive response that addresses the underlying causes of opioid addiction. She said more needs to be done to prevent overdoses and that the president's budget proposal will help in the effort.
National Drug Control Policy Director Michael Botticelli said that while the "complex and multi-faceted" opioid drug epidemic has led to dramatic increases in drug use and overdoses, there have been "signs of progress" through the Obama administration's efforts -- particularly in the decrease of opioid use among young people.
Botticelli said the White House has been working with Mexico to decrease drug trafficking, also hoping to equip the Drug Enforcement Agency with additional funding to stop the production of opioid substances in Mexico and in Afghanistan, where the "vast majority" is produced.
Opioids, a class of drugs including prescription pain medicine and heroin, caused 28,648 deaths in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency also found a continued increase in heroin-related deaths and in deaths involving synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl.
"Prescription drug abuse and heroin use have taken a heartbreaking toll on too many Americans and their families, while straining resources of law enforcement and treatment programs," the White House said in a statement. "More Americans now die every year from drug overdoses than they do in motor vehicle crashes."
Substance abuse disorders are required to be covered by health insurance companies under the Affordable Care Act.
"The president has made clear that addressing the opioid overdose epidemic is a priority for his administration and has highlighted tools that are effective in reducing drug use and overdose, like evidence-based prevention programs, prescription drug monitoring, prescription drug take-back events, medication-assisted treatment and the overdose reversal drug naloxone," the White House statement adds.
The majority of the proposal's funding -- $920 million -- will be used to support cooperative agreements with states to expand access to medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorders. States will be able to expand treatment capacity and make services more affordable, depending on the severity of the epidemic and the strength of the state's response.
The proposal will also allocate a $90 million increase to expand state-level prescription drug overdose prevention strategies and increase the availability of medication-assisted treatment programs, particularly in rural areas where rates of overdose and opioid use is higher.