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A toddler sits silently amid the squalid interior of his modest home. Jack longs for food, but the shelves have not been stocked in days. What little money that was available has been used to feed the addiction of his caregivers.

Jack is not alone. At least 75 percent of all child abuse or neglect cases across the country involve substance abuse by parents or caregivers, according to the National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare.

The teenage daughter of a prominent city official is caught shoplifting. Although she lives in a nice home, Jane says she needed the merchandise to pawn for pills purchased from an unscrupulous cash-only pain clinic.

Jane’s case isn’t unique. An estimated 12 million people in the United States used prescription drugs for non-medical purposes in 2010, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Unbelievably, NIDA notes that there were enough prescription painkillers prescribed “to medicate every American adult around-the-clock for a month.”

Prescription drug abuse has no socio-economic barriers. But it does come with a huge human cost.

Each day an estimated two people die from drug overdoses and another 40 are admitted to emergency rooms with life-threatening conditions, according to the Prescription Monitoring Program of Excellence at Brandeis University. 

American businesses – from industry to mom-and-pop establishments – face lost productivity and increased workplace hazards because of addicted employees. This is a threat to sustainable economic development in both urban and rural communities.

Health insurers alone lose up to $72.5 billion annually in bogus claims. These costs are, by necessity, passed along to consumers.

Trying to get a handle on the problem – which has now reached epidemic proportions – is not easy. Ten years ago, Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers (KY-5th) created a program to help states track the sale of prescription drugs. In 2010, he helped launch the bi-partisan Congressional Caucus on Prescription Drug Abuse, which seeks to raise awareness of abuse, and to work toward innovative and effective policy solutions incorporating treatment, prevention, law enforcement and research.

Finding a solution goes beyond political allegiances. As Rogers notes, “The prescription drug abuse problem can’t be solved in one state, with one simple strategy.”

In an effort to bring all parties together, Operation UNITE is coordinating a National Rx Drug Abuse Summit in Florida from April 10-12, 2012. This will be the first conference focusing only on the issue of prescription drug abuse. The goal of the Summit is to foster better understanding and cooperation between state and national leaders, law enforcement officials, medical professionals, community advocates, treatment experts, educators, private industry leaders and others who are finding success in battling this nationwide epidemic.

Keynote speakers at the Summit will include R. Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy; Vice Admiral Dr. Regina M. Benjamin, the U.S. Surgeon General; Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse; and the Hon. Joseph T. Rannazzisi, deputy assistant administrator for the Office of Diversion Control with the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Left unchecked, the prescription drug abuse problem will continue to grow out of control, draining limited resources and devastating families.

Join this important national conversation on April 10-12, 2012. America’s future is at stake.

Karen Kelly, President/CEO, Operation UNITE


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