Getting painkillers seems easy. Getting help to fight painkiller addiction is hard.

BURLINGTON, Vt. — Addiction to prescription painkillers and heroin has grown so deadly that the Obama administration wants to spend more than $1 billion over the next two years fighting it. Nearly all of the money would go to making anti-addiction medications, including buprenorphine, more available.

Yet in the midst of the worst epidemic of unintentional drug overdose in U.S. history — mortality rates are four to fives times as high as in the mid-1970s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — it can be harder to get drugs to treat an addiction than it is to get the drugs that feed it.

More than 28,000 Americans died from heroin and painkiller overdoses in 2014, according to the CDC. But fewer than half of the 2.2 million people who need treatment for opioid addiction are receiving it, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said as President Obama’s...

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