ATLANTA (4-18-17) – America currently lacks “safe, effective, non-addictive strategies” to combat the opioid epidemic, Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told attendees to the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit Wednesday morning. “Our list of options is woefully short.”

Collins announced plans to jump-start research through formation of public-private partnerships with the ultimate goal to “cut in half” the time it takes to develop new treatments.

“The NIH is working with FDA (the U.S. Food and Drug Administration) and colleagues in industry to identify ways to accelerate progress in developing new non-addictive alternatives to opioids for pain management, as well as in identifying ways to provide a broader range of options for treating addiction and opioid overdoses,” Collins stated.

The Summit, which began Monday, has drawn record attendance of more than 2,400 people representing 48 states, the District of Columbia, and three other countries (Canada, China and Australia).

Tuesday morning attendees also heard from Dr. Stephen Ostroff, acting commissioner of the FDA; Dr. Anne Schuchat, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and acting administrator of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry; Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives; and Patrick Kennedy, former member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Ostroff, saying the FDA “has a special obligation to help” fight the opioid epidemic, noted, “there is a name and a face and a story to every overdose death.”

“There are far more opiates dispensed than are needed to treat pain,” Ostroff said. “This has got to change.”

The priority, he said, is to bring life-saving drugs to market as soon as possible, especially the non-addictive alternatives.

Although the amount of pain has not changed, opioid prescribing has quadrupled” in the past decade, Schuchat stated, noting much has been accomplished to address the problem since release of the “CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain” last year.

Studies have shown that if initial opioid prescriptions are written for five days or more, that person is more likely to still be on opioids one and three years later. “We need to make sure that the prescriptions we are giving out are the right ones,” she said.

The CDC is currently working to expand implementation of the guidelines, to change perceptions about opioids, to strengthen states’ prevention efforts, and to increase public awareness.

Kennedy and Gingrich, founding advisors of Advocates for Opioid Recovery, addressed a variety of issues related to drug use disorders during a fireside chat-style discussion. Although representing different sides of the political spectrum, they both stressed a need to work together.

Gingrich said it is important to get people to understand the scale of the problem and to use sound, scientific evidence to provide help – such as moving toward non-addictive pain medicines, and ensuring that those incarcerated receive treatment and continuing support to maintain sobriety upon release.

Kennedy, who is in long-term recovery for an opioid addiction, said it is essential to talk about the problem. “We’re afraid of upsetting the people we love the most and cutting off the people we need the most. It’s the silence that surrounds the suffering,” he said. “This is at the heart of the problem.”

Kennedy said people with a mental illness due to addiction should receive the same level of healthcare as those suffering from any other disease, and encouraged greater involvement of faith institutions. He also stated this country needs to build upon its infrastructure to combat addiction with better “roads to recovery and bridges to health.”

Gingrich called for a thoughtful and reasoned approach. “Sometimes the urgent drives out the important,” he said. “Ask what is important for you to do tomorrow before being overwhelmed by the urgent.”

The Summit, which concludes on Thursday, is the largest national collaboration of federal, state and local professionals seeking to address prescription drug abuse, misuse and diversion.