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US to Pair Health Workers, Police to Combat Heroin Use

FILE - A woman who voluntarily went to the police for help kicking her heroin addiction walks from the police station for her ride to an area detox facility, in Gloucester, Massachusetts, July 10, 2015.

The U.S. embarked Monday on a new way to combat soaring heroin overdoses and deaths.

The White House said it would pair health care workers with law enforcement agents in 15 states along the country's populous northeast corridor to emphasize treatment of drug users over punishment.

The million program is aimed at tracing where heroin is coming from, how it is being laced with a deadly additive, and who is selling it on the streets.

The plan is a response to a steep recent increase in the number of heroin overdoses and deaths throughout the country, but particularly in the states covered by the new effort.

“The new Heroin Response Strategy demonstrates a strong commitment to address the heroin and prescription opioid epidemic as both a public health and a public safety issue," said Michael Botticelli, Director of National Drug Control Policy.

Officials are concerned about the number of cases they are seeing where heroin is laced with fentanyl, an opiate that in its legal form is a prescription drug used to treat post-surgical pain.

One official said the hope is that by pairing the health workers with police, it will both reduce crime and the number of heroin users who end up in emergency rooms needing immediate treatment.

The $2.5 million program is part of $13.4 million in funding from the White House's Drug Policy Office aimed at so-called High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas.

The funds will also support other prevention efforts and address drug threats on tribal lands in the United States, as well as enhance efforts to stop the flow of drugs across the border with Mexico.