“Nearly half of young people who inject heroin surveyed in three recent studies reported abusing prescription opioids before starting to use heroin,” according to a National Institutes of Health (NIH) report. “Some individuals reported switching to heroin because it is cheaper and easier to obtain than prescription opioids.”

Because of the connection between prescription opioids and the rise in heroin use, the nation’s largest collaborative summit for advocates and professionals focused on the prescription drug epidemic announced a name change to reflect the impact of heroin. The Summit’s website address will remain the same.

Now in its fifth year, the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit will be held March 28-31, 2016, at The Westin Peachtree Plaza in Atlanta, Georgia.

The 2015 Summit drew nearly 1,400 participants from 46 states, the District of Columbia, Canada and Uganda – a 27.2 percent increase from the previous year – to focus on ways to “Make an Impact” in the fight against Rx drug abuse.

“A large number of attendees expressed an interest in ways they could combat problems associated with heroin’s exponential growth – including unacceptable rates of heroin overdose deaths and outbreaks of Hepatitis C from contaminated needles,” said Nancy Hale, President/CEO for Operation UNITE, the Summit’s organizer, noting current registrations are running 30 percent ahead of 2015.

To properly address the issue, the 2016 Summit will expand the number of breakout sessions to include an educational track focused specifically on heroin-related topics.

“There is a definite link between prescription painkiller abuse and heroin use,” Hale said. “According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, nearly 80 percent of recent heroin initiates reported using prescription opioids prior to heroin.”

In addition, research conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests that abuse of opioid medications may actually open the door to heroin use.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), about 4.5 million Americans older than 12 abused prescription painkillers in 2013, and 289,000 used heroin.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reported that the number of first-time heroin users grew from 90,000 people in 2006 to 156,000 in 2012.

“We’re cognizant of the fact that many heroin users reach that point because of their prescription drug abuse,” Hale said. “Basically it makes sense that if we are going to address the prescription drug abuse issue holistically that we would also include the heroin scourge in our national conversation to educate about, prevent and respond to this crisis.”

Operation UNITE, from its inception in 2003, has focused equally on the synergism between law enforcement, treatment and education components to battling prescription drug abuse and diversion, Hale stated, noting that the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) has also taken this approach in recent National Drug Control Strategy reports.

“Last week’s announcement (October 21) by President Obama and ONDCP Director Michael Botticelli that the federal government will focus on treatment, education and prevention measures to combat heroin and prescription drug abuse helped increase awareness of the problem,” Hale said. “It also validates the mission and goals of the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit.”

For more information about the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit visit their website at nationalrxdrugabusesummit.org.