President announces initiatives; praises UNITE at National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit

ATLANTA – President Barack Obama thanked and praised Operation UNITE during his remarks last week at the 5th National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit in Atlanta. During the Summit, his administration also announced several initiatives aimed at combating drug abuse across the country.

Operation UNITE, the Summit's organizer, is a nonprofit that leads education, treatment and law enforcement initiatives in 32 counties in southern and eastern Kentucky.

Obama said he wanted to attend the Summit to help shed a spotlight on the issue of opioid-related overdoses.

“More people are killed because of opioid overdoses than traffic accidents,” Obama said. “We’ve spent a lot of time and resources to reduce traffic fatalities. It’s been successful. We have to take a systematic look at the data and science and develop strategies.”

In his introduction of the President, Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers (KY-5) said: “Unfortunately, this epidemic that quietly began in the hills of Appalachia has now exploded onto the national scene. It is a challenge confronting our nation’s brightest minds and her most thoughtful leaders. I am deeply grateful that, despite the many challenges confronting our nation at home and abroad, the President has made this issue a priority and is here to talk to us today.”

In conjunction with the Summit, the Administration announced several initiatives, including:

  • Establishing a Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Parity Task Force;
  • Implementing Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Parity in Medicaid;
  • Preventing opioid overdose deaths through a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration grants of $11 million to states to purchase and distribute the opioid overdose reversal drug, naloxone, and to train first responders and others on its use along with other overdose prevention strategies;
  • Expanding the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s regional High Intensity Drug High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas initiative that improves local partnerships between law enforcement and their counterparts in public health to combat heroin use and overdose; and
  • Investing in community policing to address heroin through $7 million in Department of Justice grants for the COPS Anti-Heroin Task Force Program to advance public safety and to investigate the distribution of heroin, unlawful distribution of prescription opioids and unlawful heroin and prescription opioid traffickers.
  • Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, United States Surgeon General, spoke before the President.

    “Those of us who practice medicine can lead the way in ending this epidemic of prescription drug overdoses," said U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy. “The first step is to change the way we think about our patients who struggle with addiction. They are not suffering from a moral failing or a lapse in judgment. Rather, they are people with a chronic condition who deserve to be treated with the skill, compassion and urgency our profession demands of us.”

    Earlier in the day, a panel earlier in the day included U. S. Rep. Harold “Hal” Rogers, R-Kentucky 5th District, Chair, Committee on Appropriations; Michael P. Botticelli, Director, White House Office of National Drug Control Policy; Dr. Francis S. Collins, Director, National Institutes of Health; Kana Enomoto, Acting Administrator, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; and Dr. Robert M. Califf, Commissioner, United States Food and Drug Administration.

    “NIH will continue to support research that holds the potential for unveiling entirely new targets for the treatment of pain,” said Dr. Francis S. Collins, NIH Director. “Developing highly effective, non-addictive medications for pain will get us closer to turning around the alarming trend of the opioid epidemic.”

    Daily coverage of the Summit can be found on its social media channels, @RxSummit and

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