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ATLANTA – The day started with one of Republican President Donald Trump’s top advisors, Kellyanne Conway, and ended with a call to action from former president and Democrat Bill Clinton.Those bookends reflect the tone both say is needed to chip away at an opioid crisis that has been compared to the 1980s-era AIDS epidemic. “I know these are very politically charged times,” Conway said, speaking Wednesday at the National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit held in downtown Atlanta. “I can’t think of a more nonpartisan issue looking for more bipartisan solutions than the opioid crisis and the drug demand/drug supply and heroin epidemic that is really roiling our nation,” she said. No barbs were exchanged here. Clinton, whose foundation has worked on the opioid issue for years, said a unified front is essential.“The only silver lining in this whole miserable, heart-breaking mess is that every demographic in every region in both political parties are being crushed by it,” Clinton said.“If there is one thing we should be able to do together without any partisan rancor, it should be to take this by the throat and squeeze it until it’s gone,” Clinton added.In 2016, opioids killed a record-setting number of people in in the U.S., with more than 42,000 deaths, or an average of 115 people every day. In Georgia, nearly 1,000 people died from an opioid drug overdose. Nationwide, those numbers are expected to continue to climb as officials grapple with how to get a handle on the growing national crisis. Conway briefed attendees on what the Trump administration is doing about it.  Particular emphasis has been put on continuing to reduce the massive number of prescriptions written and pushing for national coordination among the state-run prescription drug monitoring programs, which are seen as a tool for curbing overprescribing. “We are not talking about the 28 million or so chronic pain sufferers in this country,” Conway said. “We are talking about the sports injury for the high school or collegiate athlete, the dental procedure, the surgery.” She also sought to clarify some of the president’s recent tough talk on seeking the death penalty for drug dealers. The administration wants Congress to look at stricter minimum sentencing guidelines for drug traffickers who have caused multiple overdoses through dangerous drugs like fentanyl, Conway said. “The penalties just aren’t there” right now, she said. “The entire impulse comes from how in the world are we going to truly punish those who are directly responsible for the overdoses and the deaths of so many people without stiffening up our sentences and in some cases looking at the death penalty?”The federal government, meanwhile, will devote $4.6 billion to the crisis, which advocates have said is not enough to make a significant impact. Still, that funding represents nearly three times what is currently spent on the epidemic outside of treatment dollars funneled through Medicaid and Medicare, according to the Associated Press. The National Institutes of Health, whose budget was nearly doubled, is using the money to step up research on preventing addiction from starting and boosting treatment options for those who need it, said Francis Collins, the agency’s director. “We do have effective treatment,” Collins said. “Let’s make no mistake: Medication-assisted treatment works. But the number of options and the way it has been delivered is somewhat limited.” Medication-assisted treatment is a form of treatment that uses drugs, such as methadone, to help wean people off of powerful painkillers. In Georgia, the growing number of these clinics has troubled lawmakers, who passed tighter regulations last year.  Collins said the goal is to eventually have “a wide menu of opportunities for people to become free of this scourge and to be able to choose the one that makes the most sense for their circumstances.”As an example, he said research is currently being done on a longer-lasting drug that could aid people for six months and help them through a period when they are most vulnerable for relapse. Vivitrol, a drug that blocks the effects of opioids, only lasts for a month. Jill Nolin covers the Georgia Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at 

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