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(CNN)The Obama administration is making it easier for doctors to use anti-addiction drugs in the fight against an exploding epidemic of prescription drug and heroin abuse.

It’s part of a package of new initiatives announced Tuesday that includes other efforts to expand addiction treatment and increase coverage for mental health and substance abuse services. These initiatives are in addition to the $1.1 billion he proposed last month.

Overdose deaths from opioids — drugs that include heroin as well as prescription drugs like oxycodone and hydrocodone — continue to be the leading cause of unintentional death for Americans, rising 14% from 2013 to 2014. Every 19 minutes someone dies from an opioid overdose.

Medication-assisted treatment with drugs like methadone and buprenorphine is a key component of the administration’s attack on the opioid epidemic. These drugs are used in conjunction with behavioral treatment to help manage an addict’s recovery and ease withdrawal from opioid drugs.
In a call to reporters, Michael Botticelli, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said, “Expanding access to medication-assisted treatment for opioid-use disorders has been a top priority for this administration. Research clearly shows that this approach, when combined with behavioral therapies, is more effective at sustaining recovery and preventing overdose.”

Some critics are concerned that drugs like methadone or buprenorphine could be diverted, or that their use could lead to further addiction.
However, Caleb Banta-Green says we can’t ignore their success. “Buprenorphine and methadone cuts mortality rates (of addicts) in half. … The fundamental line is that we need to keep people alive,” said Banta-Green, a senior research scientist at the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute at the University of Washington.

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