White House vows an improved effort against drug overdoses

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FILE PHOTO: Plastic bags of Fentanyl are displayed on a table at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection area at the International Mail Facility at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. November 29, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Lott

By Nandita Bose

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden’s administration on Tuesday pledged an improved effort to combat drug overdoses that claimed the lives of about 100,000 Americans last year, using a White House summit to tout a multifaceted approach to tackle synthetic and illicit drugs such as the powerful opioid fentanyl.

“Today’s summit is needed because the global and regional drug environment has changed dramatically from just even a few years ago,” Rahul Gupta, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, told the summit, being held jointly with public health officials from Mexico and Canada.

Gupta added that “synthetic drugs have truly become a global threat.”

Biden administration officials said they would use tools such as medications to reverse opioid overdoses and use data collection to guide their efforts.

“Today, we’re here to … look at how our collective response can be improved and the role data collection has on saving lives,” Gupta said.

More than 109,000 Americans died last year from drug overdoses, with about two-thirds of those involving synthetic drugs such as fentanyl, according to data shared during the summit.

An unprecedented number of people are dying from overdoses and poisonings in the United States, Mexico and Canada every year, Gupta said.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said a regional approach to deal with the overdose and addiction crisis is critical.

The Biden administration last month said it was seeking to meet with the makers of the life-saving medication naloxone, used to reverse opioid overdoses, in an effort to increase access and reduce cost.

Opioid abuse has plagued the United States for more than two decades and has killed more than a half million Americans, according to federal data, turning the highly addictive pain medications into a public health crisis.

The White House in April said the Unites States planned to expand efforts to disrupt illicit financial activities by drug traffickers involved in the fentanyl trade by increasing the use of sanctions.

Some U.S. lawmakers have been calling on the Biden administration to take a harder line and ratchet up pressure on Mexico to crack down on fentanyl trafficking. A handful of Republican legislators have called for the U.S. military to bomb Mexican cartels and their labs inside Mexico – a proposal the Biden administration has not embraced.

(Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham)

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