TAMPA (FOX 13) - President Obama laid out a plan he hopes will cut down on the number of drug overdose deaths, which he called an "epidemic," during a forum in West Virginia Wednesday.
"This crisis is taking lives; it's destroying families and shattering communities all across the country," Obama said at a panel discussion on opioid drug abuse. "That's the thing about substance abuse; it doesn't discriminate. It touches everybody."
The President focused part of his speech and the ensuing discussion on the explosion of heroin use across the country.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released in July found that most users reported using at least one other drug in combination with heroin, which contributes to high overdose rates. Between 2002 and 2013, the rate of heroin-related overdose deaths nearly quadrupled.
President Obama said he would like to see more federal funding used for prevention, treatment and training instead of paying to jail non-violent drug users.
"We're implementing those plans, we're partnering with communities to prevent drug use, reduce overdose deaths, help people get treatment," he said.
The rise in heroin use has plagued Tampa Bay, with authorities in Manatee and Sarasota Counties teaming up to crack down on the issue.
Steve Krivjanik, Manatee County EMS Chief, said there have been more than 1,200 heroin overdoses since January.
"People were dying and people needed help," he said.
Since authorities began re-focusing their efforts, they have made several key arrests.
In September, as they searched the home of a suspected heroin dealer, identified by Bradenton Police as Ryan Sherman, officers arrested Kennesha Belvin and charged her with using and selling heroin.
Days later, authorities charged Paul Thomas III and Troy Hodo with trafficking heroin.
"We're actually starting to see a decline [in heroin overdoses], which is good," said Krivjanik, adding at one point paramedics were responding to 10 overdose calls a day; that number is down to roughly five a day. "I think [the decline] is reflective of the positive law enforcement efforts, the positive prevention efforts."
President Obama's plan is part of his budget proposal and would still need Congressional approval.