ATLANTA — With a nod to his own drug use as a young man, President Barack Obama called Tuesday for more funding and a new approach to help people addicted to heroin and prescription drugs, seeking to shine a public spotlight on an increasingly deadly killer.
During an appearance at a drug abuse summit in Atlanta, Obama said opioid overdoses killed more people in the United States than traffic accidents did, and compared the importance of addressing the issue with that of fighting Islamic State militants.
“It’s costing lives and it’s devastating communities,” Obama said while participating in a panel with addicts in recovery and medical professionals. He said efforts to fight the epidemic were grossly underfunded and earlier asked Congress for $1.1 billion in new funding over two years.
Administration critics, including Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, embraced some of the proposals but said the White House has been too slow in responding to a crisis.
Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Caucus on International Narcotics Control, championed passage in the Senate this month of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. The bill, which has bipartisan support, awaits action in the House.
“I don’t disagree with a lot of the policy coming from the president and his administration on anti-opioid abuse,” Grassley said Tuesday in a statement. “A lot of the same policy direction is reflected in the Senate bill. I disagree with how long it takes the administration to settle and act on solutions.”
The bill would expand the availability of naloxone — which can counter the effects of a heroin or opioid overdose — to first responders. It would improve prescription drug monitoring programs and shift resources toward treating prisoners suffering from addiction, among other things.
Opioid addiction has become an issue in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Obama wrote about using marijuana and cocaine in his book “Dreams from my Father.” He said Tuesday he was lucky addiction had not overcome him earlier in life beyond his use of cigarettes.
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