ATLANTA — The Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit opened its eighth annual conference yesterday with a record attendance of more than 3,500 people in Atlanta. Opening session speakers April 22, 2019, focused on collaboration from a variety of professions and signs that this work is yielding results.

The Rx Summit kicked off with remarks from Congressman Hal Rogers, Kentucky’s 5th Congressional District and the founder of Operation UNITE, the original organizer of and now educational advisor for the Rx Summit.

“This public health crisis has damaged our nation and ripped families apart. More than 70,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2017 alone and sometimes it is hard to find hope in the midst of America’s deadliest drug epidemic,” Rogers said.

“However, Operation UNITE leaders were determined eight years ago to reach across state lines and share best practices with other communities looking for life-saving solutions; and each year at this summit, a little more hope shines through as we see shifts in more access to treatment, better policy and legislation, and more prevention programs.”

Speakers pointed to several signs of hope in law enforcement, treatment and prevention:

The U.S. Coast Guard has interdicted 213,000 pounds of cocaine and 500 pounds of meth so far in 2019.
The use of PDMPs (Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs) has helped states greatly reduce prescriptions for pain medication. For example, they have dropped 85 percent in Ohio, 80 percent in Florida and 62 percent in Kentucky.
Although 11.1 million Americans over age 12 misused opioids in 2017, that number is down from 12.7 million in 2015. In addition, the number of new heroin users is down 52 percent from 2016 to 2017.

Other opening speakers included Admiral Charles W. Ray, deputy commandant for operations for the U.S. Coast Guard; Dr. Robert R. Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz, assistant secretary for mental health and substance use for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Ray discussed how the U.S. Coast Guard stops twice as many drugs from entering the country as all other federal agencies combined.

“We’re in the supply reduction business,” Ray said. “We catch it in bulk – Sam’s Club size quantities.”

But Ray also stressed the importance that many professions have.

“This epidemic requires engagement on multiple fronts,” he said. “We’ll keep working on our front.”

The CDC’s Redfield also expressed cautious optimism, along with a recognition that there is a role for everyone in this fight.

“The opioid epidemic is the epidemic of our time,” he said. “But there is a rock-solid reason to hope. As efforts are expanding, we are seeing a plateau and hopefully a decline.”

He pointed to four areas that have made a difference: timely data; enhanced PDMPs; education of health-care professionals on the importance of properly prescribing pain medication; and education of the American public.

Redfield also stated that three areas are key to maintain progress: improving the linkage to care; destigmatizing the issue; and supporting families and communities.

Finally, Dr. McCance-Katz discussed ways the agency is helping communities with collaborations among local, state and federal agencies that include efforts to provide technical assistance and training for health-care professionals; housing for those in recovery; and regulations for telemedicine.

“No health-care practitioner should graduate without a basic background in addiction,” she said. “The opioid crisis will remain a key focus at HHS (Health and Human Services).”

The conference, which runs through Thursday, will feature President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump on Wednesday.

Founded in 2012, the Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit is now the largest national gathering of professionals from “federal to family”: local, state and, federal agencies, public health officials, business executives, academia, treatment providers, advocates, law enforcement, and family members working to find solutions that address the prescription drug abuse and misuse epidemic.

The 2019 program delivers practical, evidence-based education and actionable takeaways in 12 key areas, from national policy action to prevention strategies.

To learn more about the Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit, visit