Summit to Unite Congressional, Federal Anti-Drug Leaders

Four members of the Congressional Caucus on Prescription Drug Abuse are scheduled to participate in this month's National Prescription Drug Abuse Summit in Orlando, Fla.

The federal drug czar, the surgeon general, and the director of NIDA, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, are joining members of the Congressional Caucus on Prescription Drug Abuse at this month's National Prescription Drug Abuse Summit in Orlando, Fla. The event is unusual in that the chief organizer is Operation UNITE, an educational, treatment, and investigative organization serving only one congressional district: the 29-county Kentucky Fifth district represented by Rep. Hal Rogers, who will give a keynote speech at the summit. Rogers chairs the House Appropriations Committee, he created Operation UNITE in 2003, and he is one of three members who started the caucus.

The April 10-12 summit features both congressional leaders who have recently called for stronger federal action against what CDC and DEA call the "epidemic" of prescription drug abuse and also the top officials of federal agencies charged with addressing drug use and addictions. These include Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy; Dr. Nora Volkow, NIDA's director; and Dr. Regina Benjamin, the U.S. surgeon general.

Four members of the caucus are participating, including Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia, who recently asked two regional substance abuse task forces in his state to share stories of their work with addicted residents so he can bring those to the summit.

"I will be there fully participating," Rahall wrote in a letter to the task forces, according to a release on his website. "I want to paint, as accurately as possible, the portrait of havoc the prescription epidemic is reaping upon us in southern West Virginia. I have met with many of you already, and some of you helped submit testimony to a recent Congressional hearing that Kentucky Congressman Hal Rogers and I had requested. But, I would appreciate it if you could provide me with some additional information. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a personal experience must be worth a million. I want to present our worst cases and our best solutions. You can help me drive home your message to a national audience of experts and lawmakers by relating these to real life situations and experiences."

Rogers has been concerned with prescription drug abuse both in his state and among members of the U.S. military. "Prescription drug abuse is taking more lives in Kentucky than car crashes, and more lives around the country than heroin and cocaine combined," he said March 7. "And tragically, our brave military men and women are coming back from war hooked on these pain pills. In my region of Southern and Eastern Kentucky, our people have taken a stand that enough is enough; it's time for our federal government to follow suit. I was proud to first stand by my colleagues in calling for meaningful legislation to stem the rising tide of abuse and allow our communities once again to flourish, and then to get the assurances of my good friend [U.S. Army] Secretary McHugh that the Army is taking this epidemic seriously to protect our brave war fighters."

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