U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams told addiction specialists and others gathered in Columbus on Thursday that the opioid epidemic is his number one priority and he’s confident that it can be overcome if various facets of communities work together.
“We are gonna make our way out of this. I’m convinced of it,” he said. “I am convinced we are on the right track. I’m convinced we’re gonna solve it.”
“It’s a tragedy, but it’s also an opportunity.”
That opportunity, he said, is to bring together not only addiction specialists, but law enforcement, clergy and businesses to address causes, such as a lack of community health and wellness and a lack of resiliency and opportunity, of mental health services and of help for people who suffer trauma.
“If we use this as an opportunity to build healthier communities, we’ll solve not only the opioid epidemic but we’ll solve hypertension, we’ll solve obesity, we’ll solve smoking, we’ll solve our high drinking rates in our communities, ” he said. “That is why I think it is so important that we embrace this tragedy for the opportunity it gives us and not just look at is as a fire to put out.”
Adams addressed about 1,000 people from 19 states and Canada at the Addiction Studies Institute sponsored by the Talbott Hall addiction medicine program of Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
The event at the Columbus Convention Center aims to give participants new tools and information that they can immediately put to use, said Brad Lander, clinical director at Talbot Hall.
Adams said that also key is building hope, referring to programs in Rhode Island and West Virginia that have helped lower overdose rates and one in Tennessee that resulted in lower rates of babies born addicted to drugs. Later Thursday, he is to visit the Whitehall Division of Fire to highlight a central Ohio coalition that has made it easier for addicts to seek treatment.
Acknowledging that 2 million Americans are diagnosed with opioid use disorder, and one life lost is to an opioid overdose every 12.5 minutes, Adams said it’s time to also focus on sending a message of hope.
“We’ve got to stop beating people over the head with the harrowing statistics because, for any of us, every time we turn on the news we hear about who’s dying,” he said. “We need to hear about who’s living. We need to hear about who’s recovering. We need to hear that recovery is possible.”
Dr. James Allen, a Wexner pulmonary and critical care physician, also had a message of hope as he opened the session, saying that among those gathered were counselors, social workers, physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants, psychologists, criminal justice personnel, clergy and educators.
“If the next 24 hours is like any other typical 24 hours in Columbus, Ohio, one to two Columbus natives will die of a drug overdose. Last year 64,000 Americans died of drug overdose. That’s more than the total number of Americans killed in the entire 20 years of the Vietnam War,” Allen told the group.
“But there’s hope. And this year’s Addiction Studies Institute is designed to give you the tools that you need to bring that hope back to your own communities, your organizations and your patients.”