Attorney General Eric Holder is calling the increase in heroin-related deaths an "urgent public health crisis" and says first responders should carry with them an antidote to reverse the effects of an overdose.
In a video message released Monday, Holder says addiction to opiates and heroin is affecting Americans from "every background and walk of life."
The attorney general says the number of heroin overdose deaths rose by 45 percent between 2006 and 2010. He says federal law enforcement is working to address the problem but more work is needed on education and prevention.
He also encourages first responders to carry the drug naloxone, which can reverse a heroin overdose if administered quickly. At least 17 states and the District of Columbia allow naloxone to be distributed to the public.