In his weekly video message, Attorney General Eric Holder called the rise in deaths from overdoses of heroin and prescription painkillers an "urgent and growing public health crisis." (The Department of Justice)

The rise in deaths from heroin overdoses and prescription painkillers is an “urgent and growing public health crisis,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in his weekly video message, our colleague Philip Rucker reports.

Legislatures around the country are dealing with the epidemic. Eighteen states have amended laws in recent years to increase access to naloxone, a drug that can reverse a heroin overdose if administered quickly, the Justice Department said. Similar legislation is making progress in Utah, Ohio and Tennessee, where Republican governors are expected to sign the measures. Seventeen states have also passed so-called “good Samaritan” laws, offering some measure of immunity to those who seek medical help for someone who has overdosed.

In Vermont, the problem has gotten so bad that Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) dedicated much of his state-of-the-state address in January to the epidemic, calling it “a crisis bubbling just beneath the surface.” Chicago has emerged as such a hub for the distribution of heroin across the Midwest that area radio station WBEZ recently ran a nine-part series on the epidemic.

Nationally, overdoses are up 45 percent, Holder said in his message.

“Addiction to heroin and other opiates including certain prescription painkillers is impacting the lives of Americans in every state, in every region and from every background and walk of life,” he said.