Key Findings – The National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit
Over 1,900 people – representing 49 states and 3 foreign countries – attended the National Prescription Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta at the end of last month. Those attending consisted of government officials, law enforcement, treatment providers, clinicians, and other advocates.
This was a record attendance for the 5-year-old summit, and the first year in which heroin was addressed. The conference was put on by Operation UNITE, or Unlawful Narcotics Investigations, Treatment and Education. According to the website, the acronym “reflects the three-pronged, comprehensive approach deemed necessary to combating substance abuse in Kentucky.”
Dr. Vivek Murthy, Surgeon General reminded attendees that persons struggling with addiction are not morally bankrupt or simply lacking judgement – rather, substance abuse is a chronic condition which requires the same medical standards given to anyone with any other condition.
Since 1999, opioids have contributed to over 500,000 deaths. That’s more than WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War combined. Topical discussion stressed the importance of urgency, and that too many people have already died due to both prescription drug and heroin addiction.
President Obama attended and led a panel discussion. In addition to the Surgeon General, representatives from the National Health Institute, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse were all in attendance.
Main Findings (What Changes Are Needed)
Prescription painkillers and Rx drug abuse are considered gateways to heroin use. Both epidemics are running rampant in the United States. Medical professionals are encouraged to help reduce the demand for opiates, by having a better understanding of their addictive nature and considering alternative forms of pain relief when applicable. Also, they are asked to use the CDC’s new prescribing guidelines when determining potential patients, duration of prescriptions, and dosage amount.
More Clinician Education
In addition to utilizing the new guidelines, further clinician education is needed. The Obama administration announced that over 60 medical schools have agreed to teach a more in-depth course on prescribing guidelines.
A More Holistic Approach
Instead of just arresting addicts, society needs to start treating addiction as a health issue, and one which needs to be treated using effective, long-term, evidence-based approaches. In order to increase the availability of this treatment, the Obama administration and the Substance and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) have agreed to $11 million to fund treatment programs in 11 states, and an additional $11 million to increase the availability and use of Narcan, the drug which effectively reverses opioid overdoses in progress.
There is a need for many of the groups involved to collaborate and work together to resolve issues. This include medical professionals, law enforcement, treatment providers, and lawmakers. Community involvement is key, and society cannot continue to treat addiction as a criminal justice issue, and not a public health crisis.
According to the website, the National Rx Drug Abuse And Heroin Summit “is the largest national collaboration of professionals from local, state and federal agencies, business, academia, clinicians, treatment providers, counselors, educators, state and national leaders, and advocates impacted by Rx drug abuse and heroin use.”
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology
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