Pictured above, from left to right, are RAYSAC Board Vice Chair Tony Segovia, RAYSAC Board Member Sandra Pratt, Prevention Specialist Thomas Ragsdale, and Development & Evaluation Coordinator J. D. Carlin at the 2022 Rx and Illicit Drug Summit.

RAYSAC board members and staff had the pleasure of attending the 2022 Rx and Illicit Drug Summit in Atlanta, Georgia. The Summit is the largest annual conference where stakeholders come together annually to share best practices and strategies for prevention, treatment, and recovery. Over the span of four days, there were numerous educational sessions to include: advocacy, clinical strategies, prevention, public safety, technology systems and strategies, trending topics, and treatment & recovery.

Since this is the first in-person event in two years, there was plenty of discussion from speakers on how the COVID-19 pandemic changed the landscape of healthcare delivery overnight. When the pandemic first hit communities and businesses everything shut down and behavioral health practitioners were forced to expand in innovative ways to serve their most at-risk community members. Of course, telehealth was the main way of expanding services, but there were also barriers to accessing these platforms or a need for quick changes to governmental policies that prevented the use of telehealth.

With the pandemic we also saw the highest rates of overdose deaths and unfortunately this trend is continuing to rise. Per the CDC, there were over 100,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States during a 12-month period ending in April 2021. This was a new milestone which was exacerbated by the pandemic and deadly fentanyl in the illicit drug supply. Illicitly manufactured fentanyl (IMF) is particularly deadly because in addition to being mixed into drugs, there is a mass production of fake pills which are then marketed as legitimate prescription medications. This is where we heard from a DEA official who provided a historical depiction of the ever-evolving drug market and discussed their media campaign, One Pill Can Kill. This campaign urges people to not take any type of medication that is not prescribed to them.

More recently, we have been informed that Virginia will receive $530 million from a national settlement with opioid manufacturers. Presenters shared a model law that community leaders and policymakers can use to help advocate for the adoption of state laws to ensure that the litigation proceeds are used to prevent overdoses, treat substance use disorders, and support recovery. Officials from many states shared ways in which they plan to safeguard the money to ensure that it is used for prevention, treatment, and recovery efforts and not misused like funds that have been received from the Tobacco Settlement since the 90’s.

Lastly, we heard from numerous presenters on the need to increase prevention efforts, reduce stigma, and address racial and ethnic disparities. There was discussion on how adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have a relationship with a variety of substance-related behaviors later in life as well as an earlier onset of substance use. This calls for greater need of prevention efforts through early intervention and through education of those who are caring adults of the youth. There was also great discussion on the need for addressing and reducing stigma through social awareness and intentional engagement.

The conference was informative, thought-provoking, and very moving as there were so many stories of individuals navigating recovery or that unfortunately lost their battle with addiction. The biggest take away I have is that even with all the evidenced-based or evidence-informed programs, strategies, or tools that we have at our disposal, they do us no good if there isn’t awareness of them or if they aren’t being effectively implemented. Feel free to check out their website for more information: www.rx-summit.com

Special thanks to Tony Segovia, Vice Chair of the RAYSAC Executive Board, for writing this RADAR.
The artwork pictured above was one of many paintings displayed at the Rx and Illicit Drugs Summit. Created by Operation UNITE youth participants from eastern Kentucky, these paintings symbolize confidence, hope, and resilience.

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