Kentucky leads the way on many opioid-related efforts, and was well represented at the four-day drug abuse summit in Atlanta

U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers spoke at the 2019 National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta. (Photo via Twitter)

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Kentucky officials, researchers and clinicians were front and center at the eighth annual national summit on prescription drug abuse and heroin, started by Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky, participating in panels covering a range of topics, such as caring for babies who are born addicted to drugs and procedures that help with early detection of substance-use disorders among young people.

“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’s hard to find hope in the midst of America’s deadliest drug epidemic,” said Rogers in a news release.

The summit was founded by Operation UNITE(Unlawful Narcotics Investigations, Treatment and Education), a Kentucky non-profit created by Rogers that leads education, treatment and law enforcement initiatives in 32 counties in Southern and Eastern Kentucky.

“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,” Rogers said. “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.”

Attendance at the National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta April 22-25 was the largest yet, about 4,000. Kentucky was well represented, with a large contingent of researchers and health-care providers from the University of Kentucky on several panels. UK President Eli Capilouto, who introduced Rogers on the first day, pointed out in a video about the event that the summit often sets the national agenda that drives the research around this topic.

One panel covered topics that centered around changes to Kentucky’s laws and their potential impacts on patient care and the expansion of prescription data for public health surveillance. Another discussed a multidisciplinary model of care that allows people who come into the emergency room or hospital at UKHealthCare to get immediate treatment for their opioid-use disorder with medication assisted treatments, like buprenorphine, and then get an immediate referral to the First Bridge Clinic for further treatment and recovery care. In its first year of operation, over 300 individuals were referred for treatment with over one-third initiated care, according to a university news release.

Dr. Roger Humphries, the chair of emergency department, talked about how his views on addiction have evolved. He said that years ago he would have never considered treating a person with an opioid-use disorder in the emergency room, but that is no longer the case as evidence by his emergency room’s participation in this innovative partnership with First Bridge Clinic.

“I used to think responsibility was fully on patients,” he said, ” but now I know this is a brain disorder — one of my kids could fall into a problem like this.”

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump addressed the attendees of the summit on Wednesday. She first highlighted her “Be Best” campaign that among other things raises awareness of neonatal abstinence syndrome and maternal health. The president presented a long list of efforts by his administration, including an investment of $6 billion over two years to combat the crisis. “Everyone here today is united by the same vital goal: to liberate our fellow Americans from the grip of drug addiction and to end the opioid crisis once and for all,” he said. “We will never stop until our job is done.”

Justice Secretary John Tilley at the summit (Photo via Twitter)

Kentucky Justice Secretary John Tilley was one of four speakers to follow Trump’s keynote address. A state news release said Tilley spoke about the state’s many innovative reforms and initiatives including “strengthening treatment in prisons, establishing the KY Help Call Center, local-option syringe exchange programs, expanded access to naloxone, a three-day prescription limit for acute pain, the Kentucky State Police Angel Initiative, and the newly-announced $87 million Kentucky CAN HEAL Project,” which aims aims to reduce opioid-overdose deaths in 16 counties by 40 percent over the next four years with grants from the National Institutes of Health.

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