ATLANTA – U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack gave the opening keynote address to approximately 1,900 of the nation’s top researchers, law enforcement, advocates and policy-makers, which began Monday for the 2016 National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit.
“The opioid epidemic is a fast-growing problem all across America, and we know that rural communities are facing an even higher burden than those in urban areas,” said Vilsack. “We’ve identified ways to use existing resources to help rural towns and organizations address this challenge head-on and potentially save lives, and I look forward to meeting with community leaders to better understand how we can further support their efforts to create healthier, safer futures for families and individuals who may be struggling.”
Vilsack has been appointed to lead a new interagency effort focused on addressing rural America’s struggles with heroin and opioid abuse. He is tasked with developing bipartisan policy reforms to reduce suicide rates, improve the physical and mental health of all Americans, and reduce financial stress.
Following Vilsack’s speech, U.S. Sen. Joseph “Joe” Manchin, D-West Virginia, and West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin joined him for a panel discussion.
“Everyone at this summit shares one common goal – to save lives from the dark clenches of drug abuse,” said Congressman Hal Rogers, Co-Founder and Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Prescription Drug Abuse. “It is our mission to have constructive discussions this week to motivate action, inspire innovative solutions and influence more effective policies at the federal, state and local levels.”
The Summit, which will run through March 31, is the largest national collaboration of federal, state and local professionals seeking to address prescription drug abuse, misuse and diversion.
Attendees represent 49 states, the District of Columbia, two U.S. Territories (Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands) and three countries (Canada, Taiwan and Kenya).
“The Appalachian Regional Commission was an early investor in Operation UNITE and the Summit because they had a plan on how to help Appalachia’s communities and families take on the opioid crisis,” said Appalachian Regional Commission Federal Co-Chair Earl Gohl. “Every day they work their plan and strengthen Appalachia. Operation UNITE and the Rx Summit are now leaders in the national conversation about drug abuse.”
In addition, the Appalachian Regional Commission and the CDC have an interactive exhibit for attendees to create six-word stories, snap photos of themselves and their stories and share using hashtags #RxSummit and #RxProblem. Those photos, as well as daily coverage of the Summit can be found on its social media channels, www.facebook.com/RxSummit/<http://www.facebook.com/RxSummit/> and @RxSummit.