President Barack Obama traveled to Atlanta Tuesday to speak on a panel about the growing problem of opioid abuse of drugs, like heroin and morphine.
Channel 2's Dave Huddleston attended the panel at the Westin Hotel in downtown Atlanta Tuesday afternoon, where he reported the president told the forum that more people are dying from opioid drugs than car crashes.
"I think the public doesn't fully appreciate yet the scope of the problem," Obama told the panel.
Obama arrived at the hotel around 2:30 p.m. after flying into Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and spoke to about 2,000 people attending the 5th-annual National Prescription Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit.
He sat on a panel and listened to former drug addicts tell their story of abuse. He also opened up and talked about his own problems with cigarettes.
“We medicate a lot of problems and self-medicate a lot,” Obama said. "The problem we have right now is treatment is underfunded."
Obama said the U.S. can cut opioid abuse in the same way it has lowered tobacco use and traffic fatalities. Obama said we have to fight addiction like we did car accidents.
“My daughters’ generation understand very clearly, you don't drive when you're drunk and put on your seat belt," Obama said.
Obama listened as two people on the panel opened up about their addiction to heroin and prescription drugs, including this woman in her 20s.
"It slowly went from weekend to using it through the week, needing it to go to work, to eventually I needed something stronger than Vicodin. I was doing OxyContin,” one of the recovering drug addicts told the panel.
Obama wants to use $1.1 billion in tax dollars to fight drug addiction. White House officials said that most of the money that Obama seeks to battle opioid addiction would fund agreements with states to expand medication-assisted treatment.
Congress is attempting to allocate more resources to confront the problem, one of few areas where bipartisan agreement may be reached during the election year. But the White House is critical of a Senate bill it says lacks critical funding.
Health officials who addressed the conference earlier Tuesday said doctor training will be key.
"Changes must start with us," said Dr. Patrice Harris, chairman of an American Medical Association task force on the crisis.
She said there have been some signs of progress. For the past two years, the total number of prescriptions for opioids has decreased.
"Physicians have changed their prescribing practices for many reasons, which is a good sign, a sign of progress, but I think we all can agree that there is more work to do," Harris said.
Officials also are focused on better educating prescribers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued new guidelines stating that physical therapy, exercise and over-the-counter pain medication should be used before turning to painkillers like morphine and oxycodone. Sixty universities will announce that their students will have to learn prescriber information in line with the new guidelines in order to graduate.