One of the people on the front lines of the war on illegal drugs is Lisa Roberts, RN of the Portsmouth City Health Department, who is in Atlanta for the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit.
Roberts said the nation’s top experts in addressing the opioid epidemic are there. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. Surgeon General, Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Addiction, and Patrick Kennedy and Newt Gingrich of Advocates for Opioid Recovery, are featured speakers along with the director of the Centers for Disease Control, Anne Schuchat, M.D. Kentucky Operation Unite stages the event.
Treating pain effectively, investing in community prevention, providing proper treatment, eradicating the stigma around addiction, and eliminating stress are keys to overcoming the nation’s opioid crisis, United States Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy told attendees of the sixth annual National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit Tuesday evening.
“The disease of addiction can swiftly and quickly high jack a person’s mind,” Murthy said. “We know what works. The problem is we aren’t doing enough of it.
But as strong as science may be in battling addiction, the most important resource needed to overcome the crisis, Murthy said, “is our ability to demonstrate compassion (because it) allows us to stop judging and start helping.”
“Heroin and fentanyl are the topic here because the whole nation is seeing this switch from prescription painkillers to heroin, because they are very similar,” Roberts said. “We’ve learned quite a bit – basically there is kind of a consensus that this is a national emergency, and should being treated like a public health emergency.”
She said officials at the summit said the Department of Health and Human services has the authority to declare an emergency, but as of yet, has not.
“For far too long, millions of people have struggled in the shadows with addiction,” Murthy said. “(Your efforts) are about reaffirming the belief that every life matters … that we do better as a country when we look out for each other.”
Roberts talked about the group formed by Patrick Kennedy and Newt Gingrich.
“Newt Gingrich was talking about how he is close to the president that a national emergency response would include medication for Opioid Use Disorder,” Roberts said. “Patrick Kennedy, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, shared his experience. He had become addicted to Oxycontin. He ended up going on Suboxone for a while.”
She said the use of Narcan was another topic being discussed.
“The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) did say they hope to be able to take Narcan over the counter in the United States, so it’s no longer a prescription,” Roberts said. “Because it’s a prescription it is subject to all sorts of rules and regulations that make things difficult for people to access it.”
Roberts said the 21st Century Cures Act invests in the science of studying pain and addiction.
“They are looking at ways to make pain medication that is non-addictive but is still effective for treating pain,” Roberts said. “So that is something the Health and Human Services director felt like was a possibility within the next 5-6 years, that would help give alternatives to pain that didn’t have the bad side effects.”
The Summit, which began Monday evening, has drawn record attendance of nearly 2,400 people representing 48 states, the District of Columbia, and three other countries (Canada, China and Australia).
Also keynoting was Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), who spoke about her organization’s research on the health aspects of drug abuse and addiction.
“NIDA is focused on supporting research and disseminating findings to address the widespread problem of opioid misuse and addiction that is facing our nation, while continuing to ensure relief for those suffering from pain,” Volkow said, “The best approach must include safer and more effective pain management strategies, new and innovative medications and technologies for the treatment of opioid addiction, and improved overdose prevention and reversal interventions.”
Volkow made a profound statement as a part of her talk.
“There is a sense of urgency,” she emphasized. “We cannot afford to wait.”
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewisPDT.