The COVID-19 pandemic shut down nearly the entire world over the past year, Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky told attendees of the 10th annual Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit on Monday, “but unfortunately, it did not slow down the illicit drug business.”
In his Summit-opening remarks, Rogers noted that early reports show that Kentucky recorded 1,946 overdose-involved deaths, a microcosm for the spike observed across the nation by the CDC. The surge in overdose deaths was compounded by nearly 2,700 COVID-related deaths in the state. The nation, Rogers said, has endured an ongoing epidemic within a pandemic. He expressed gratitude for attendees remaining focused on the opioid epidemic even through the challenges of COVID-19 over the past 13 months.
“We could easily get overwhelmed by these numbers, but I maintain hope because of hometown warriors like Karen Perry, hometown organizations like Operation UNITE, and visionary leaders like Admiral Charles Ray with the Coast Guard,” Rogers said. “There is power in the expansive reach of this life-saving movement when we can bring together all of these factions to the same table.”
Rogers noted that several fellow members of Congress will share updates on how legislators are continuing their efforts on Capitol Hill to combat the opioid epidemic. Among those slated to speak this week at the Summit:
- Sen. Marsha Blackburn (Tennessee)
- Sen. Roy Blunt (Missouri)
- Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (West Virginia)
- Sen. Bill Cassidy (Louisiana)
- Sen. Ed Markey (Massachusetts)
- Sen. Mitch McConnell (Kentucky)
- Rep. Larry Bucshon (Indiana)
- Rep. Buddy Carter (Georgia)
- Rep. Tom Cole (Oklahoma)
- Rep. Betty McCollum (Minnesota)
- Rep. Markwayne Mullin (Oklahoma)
- Rep. Lori Trahan (Massachusetts)
- Rep. David Trone (Maryland)
A multi-pronged approach – law enforcement, treatment and education – remains the best path forward in tackling the opioid crisis, Rogers said, and he implored attendees to press on—and not wait for the COVID-19 pandemic to subside.
“Let’s reach deeper than ever before and kick our efforts into overdrive as we begin another decade together,” he said.
Beacon of Hope Award presented
The Congressman Hal Rogers Beacon of Hope Award on Monday was presented to Karen Perry, a founding member of the Rx Summit’s national advisory board. The Beacon of Hope honors leaders and change makers in the fight against the opioid epidemic. Perry is the third recipient of the award.
At the inaugural Rx Summit in 2012, Perry played a role in the creation of a memorial wall recognizing individuals who were lost to overdose. Perry’s son, Richard Perry Jr., who died by overdose as a college student, was among those on the wall.
“As a young college student, Richard lost his battle with addiction, but Karen didn’t let his story stop there. Through her own personal tragedy, she established Narcotics Overdose Prevention Education (NOPE),” Rogers said.
Since its creation, the NOPE program has led initiatives advocating for addiction-related legislation and the establishment of educational programs in Florida and Pennsylvania. To date, NOPE has reached more than 500,000 individuals.