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Obama picks Tom Vilsack to address heroin spike

Story highlights

  • Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the longest serving of Obama's original Cabinet, will head an effort to fight heroin use
  • Heroin use has skyrocketed in rural communities triggered by the availability of cheap forms of the drug

(CNN)President Barack Obama is naming a Cabinet-level point person to address the problem of heroin and other opiate use in rural communities, the White House said Friday.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the longest-serving member of Obama's original Cabinet, will head an effort probing many of the particular ailments facing America's small towns.
    The White House hopes Vilsack will use information about rural problems to develop policy solutions combating heroin use as well as "increasing suicide rates, declining physical and mental health, and heightened financial stress," a White House official said.
    Heroin use has skyrocketed in rural parts of the United States in the past several years, triggered by the widespread availability of cheap forms of the drug -- often times cheaper than black-market prescription painkillers.
    Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is pictured.
    The issue has gained prominence on the presidential campaign trail, particularly in New Hampshire, where heroin overdose incidents doubled between 2013 and 2014.
    In his State of the Union address Tuesday, Obama cited combating heroin use as an area for bipartisan cooperation.
    "Because it's an election season, expectations for what we will achieve this year are low," Obama said.
    "I hope we can work together this year on some bipartisan priorities like criminal justice reform and helping people who are battling prescription drug abuse and heroin abuse. So who knows? We might surprise the cynics again," he said.