CHAMPIONSGATE, FL – A national outcry about the human cost of prescription drug abuse is needed if efforts to stop this national epidemic are to be successful, participants at the second National Rx Drug Abuse Summit were told.
“When are we going to take it seriously, because in the end these are friends and family members” who are paying for the cost of addiction, said Joseph Rannazzisi, deputy administrator for the DEA’s Office of Diversion Control, echoing comments from many of the keynote speakers.
Nearly 900 people from 49 states and two other countries participated in the Summit, held April 2-4, 2013, in Orlando, Florida.
“People of great passion and perspective are here wanting to make an impact in their communities,” said Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers (KY-5th), chair of the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations, whose efforts to address prescription drug abuse have been recognized nationally.
“The first step is we have to admit there is a problem,” said Rogers, co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Prescription Drug Abuse. “I don’t think the country is there yet. We’ve got to face up to it. We’ve got to make this known … and that we’re not going to hide from it.”
Recurring themes highlighted by presenters at the Summit included: the need to provide better education about drug abuse and diversion, especially for prescribers; greater use and seamless integration of state Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs; identifying and sharing best-practice solutions; openly admitting problems to facilitate provision of effective treatment and recovery programs; and adequately treating pain without over-prescribing narcotics that lack abuse-deterrent formulations.
The proliferation of opioid medications throughout the United States over the past decade has been met with a corresponding increase in both drug overdose deaths (tripling from 1990 to 2008) and a five-fold increase in treatment admissions (2000 to 2010), said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Any other issue this important would not have been ignored for so long.”
“The cost is in the lives of individuals,” Volkow said. “This is an urgent issue. We can’t afford to wait and wait and wait.”
One of the focus areas of this year’s Summit involved the staggering increase in the number of infants experiencing withdrawal symptoms at birth.
In 2009, one infant was born per hour with signs of drug withdrawal, said Frances Harding, director of the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention in the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Nationally, the cost to provide treatment for these infants is $53,000 per child, said Dr. John Dreyzehner, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Health, noting there are also many intangible costs on families and caregivers.
U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm (NY-11th) labeled prescription drug abuse “a domestic enemy” that must be addressed immediately and from all fronts. “I don’t understand how it can be right in front of our eyes and still we can’t get enough done.”
“Every American is bearing the burden,” agreed U.S. Rep. Nick J. Rahall II (WV-3rd), co-chair of the Congressional Caucus. “It’s a difficult and challenging task to save an entire generation. It requires a commitment of mind and heart.”
“We can stop this epidemic,” proclaimed Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “But, we need everyone working together in an all-hands on deck approach.”
This year’s Summit began with a welcome from Rep. Rogers and an update on the country’s response to the prescription drug abuse epidemic from R. Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), Dr. Margaret Hamburg, commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and Dr. Frieden.
Following the opening general session were Vision Sessions that provided an in-depth examination of innovative programs and strategies. Participants engaged leaders from the Appalachian Regional Commission, White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, The Partnership at Drugfree.org, CompPharma, SAMHSA, PillGuard, and the U.S. Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.
The afternoon featured breakout sessions in six focus areas: Third-Party Payer, Clinical, Pharmacy, Treatment, Education & Advocacy and Law Enforcement.
In Tuesday’s “Realities of Addiction” keynote presentation, Dr. Volkow provided a stark reminder about the importance of “raising the risk perception” of prescription drugs, especially among adolescents.
The evening concluded with an emotional showing of the non-fiction movie “Pharmboy,” a story about a 16-year-old battling the side effects of being born addicted to drugs. Producer Larry Feeney, along with three students from Rockcastle County High School in Kentucky who have lost loved ones to addiction, were present to answer questions and share their perspectives.
Wednesday began with a panel discussion on the cost of prescription drug abuse. Devlin Barrett, a reporter with The Wall Street Journal, moderated the panel comprised of Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) CEO Gen. Arthur Dean, Coalition Against Insurance Fraud Executive Director Dennis Jay, Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney John Niedermann, and Dr. Dreyzehner.
Efforts to tackle the prescription drug problem through legislation were discussed by a panel of the Congressional Caucus. Rep. Daniel Webster (NY-10th) and Rep. William R. “Bill” Keating (MA-9th) joined Rep. Rogers, Rep. Rahall and Rep. Grimm to encourage support for four bills currently pending before Congress.
A majority of these bills “would be unnecessary if the FDA would make the changes on its own,” Rogers noted.
Following the Congressional Forum, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Florida’s Attorney General Pam Bondi shared recent success stories from their home states.
Breakout sessions continued Wednesday afternoon. The day concluded with presentations on preventing and prosecuting prescription drug abuse cases by Director Harding and Rannazzisi, respectively.
Thursday featured in-depth strategy discussions in three critical areas: Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs, implementing Successful Strategies for Community Change, and issues related to the U.S. Military.
New this year were Idea Exchange sessions, where participants discussed with peers concerns and strategies about Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, the Appalachian region, and addressing addiction issues among teenagers.
“We were extremely pleased that so many individuals representing such a broad cross-section of interests shared their knowledge and expertise,” said Karen Kelly, director of Operation UNITE, a non-profit anti-drug organization that hosted the Summit. “Collaboration is critical, and the Summit affords an unmatched opportunity for stakeholders to identify opportunities to make an impact within their own communities.”
For more information about the Summit visit their website at www.nationalrxdrugabusesummit.org.