Formidable resources have been brought to bear on this country’s opioid epidemic and overall drug abuse crisis, with evidence of progress being made in the efforts to stem the tide of addiction and death.
Those efforts were highlighted in the Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit in Atlanta, which had a record attendance of more than 3,500 at the eighth annual conference. It is the largest national gathering of professionals engaged in combating prescription drug abuse and misuse, bringing together local, state and federal agencies, public health officials, business executives, academia, treatment providers, advocates, law enforcement and family members.
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump addressed the conference, underscoring recent successes in the fight against addiction. Trump said, “We are holding big pharma accountable.” He had proof: A day earlier, federal prosecutors charged a major pharmaceutical distribution company, Rochester Drug Co-Operative Inc., and two of its former executives with conspiracy to distribute controlled narcotics and conspiracy to defraud the U.S., the first time such charges had been filed against pharmaceutical officials. Trump also said his administration is “stopping the drug companies in foreign countries from rigging the system,” an apparent reference to his gaining agreement from China to control the potent opioid fentanyl. The first lady cited the “administration’s historic actions to combat this crisis.”
Trump noted that $19 million worth of cocaine was recently seized at the Port of Savannah and once again he touted his much-maligned wall on the southern border to help stop the flow of heroin into this country. Adding to the efforts are social media giants Twitter and Google. Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway said Google is helping by displaying links to locations for people to drop off unused and expired pills. So far in 2019, the administration has helped collect nearly four million pounds of unused and expired medications, enough to fill seven Air Force One planes, Conway said. This is an example of the cooperation needed on all fronts to combat the terrible plague of drug addiction.
Georgia is among the many states suing opioid producers and distributors, seeking repayment of the costs of combating the crisis on the grounds that the companies have fueled the crisis. In Georgia, deaths from opioids have jumped, reaching 1,014 in 2017 — a rate of 9.7 deaths per 100,000 people, compared to the national rate of 14.6.
The current federal push began with Trump’s Initiative to Stop Opioid Abuse, launched in 2018 to reduce demand and over-prescribing of the drugs, educate people about the dangers of misuse, reduce the supply of illicit drugs by cracking down on the international and domestic drug supply chains and provide help to addicts through treatment and recovery services. For these efforts, the Trump administration secured $6 billion in new funding over two years. There was also $1.5 billion appropriated for grants to state programs.
Georgia’s senior senator, Johnny Isakson, the common-sense man from Cobb County, lauded the president’s continued emphasis on the drug crisis and observed that the state’s medical community and first responders “now have better tools to fight this epidemic.” Sen. David Perdue pointed out that Trump’s visit demonstrated an ongoing commitment to combating the crisis.
Undoubtedly, the president’s role is vitally important and he must continue to keep the crisis before the public and a high priority for the professionals involved in dealing with the problems.
At the Atlanta summit, Dr. Robert R. Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, aptly described the situation. “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.” The factors that are making a difference, he said, are timely data, enhanced prescription drug monitoring, education of health care professionals on the importance of properly prescribing pain medication and education of the American public.
In educating the public, there is a part for every citizen who is not ensnared in addiction to reach out to those in need and speak out for help. Neighbor helping neighbor — the American way.