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Surgeon General Jerome Adams comes to Kentucky to talk about opioid epidemic, treatment

By Hannah Carver
Special to KyForward

Fighting the opioid epidemic and its effects is no single-solution issue.

Surgeon General Jerome Adams addresses local business and government leaders in Northern Kentucky (photos by Hannah Carver).

Surgeon General Jerome Adams delivered that message Monday at the St. Elizabeth Training and Education Center in Erlanger, Kentucky, while addressing more than 100 business, health and government leaders at a luncheon.

The event was hosted by the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

The speech came just four days after the Surgeon General’s first advisory in more than 10 years. The advisory urges Americans to carry naloxone, which reverses the effects of an opioid overdose, in response to what has become a serious national crisis.

Every day, more than 115 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. This alarming rate not only affects individuals and families, but also the social and economic welfare of the communities in which they live.

“Naloxone is not the end; it’s the beginning of a conversation,” Adams said. “First, let’s stop those who are struggling with addiction from dying.”

Working to solve the opioid problem, Adams said he draws from his experiences fighting Indiana’s HIV outbreak while working as the state’s Health Commissioner.

Northern Kentucky Camber of Commerce President & CEO Brent Cooper addresses crowd of more than 100 local leaders ahead of Surgeon General’s remarks.

“We learned that we had to put the needs of the people first. That was critically important, and we couldn’t adopt a single-issue approach,” Adams said. “It was about the needs of the community, about building prosperity, about building wellness, about building hope. We learned we had to address multiple needs simultaneously.”

One of the biggest hurdles to cross in the fight is reducing the stigma behind it, Adams said.
“We should treat addiction like any other acute or chronic illness.”

This is something that Transitions, Inc. CEO Jim Beiting is already working to achieve in Northern Kentucky. He acknowledges it is a community effort, saying, “The more we talk about drug and alcohol addiction, I think that helps reduce the stigma.”

Transitions is a Northern Kentucky organization that works to help individuals move from the pain of addiction to the gratitude of recovery.

Decriminalizing drug use is an important step in the process, Beiting said.

“We don’t want to excuse the behavior, but at the same time, we don’t want to put someone in jail because of the side effects of their disease.”

Surgeon General Adams observes a naloxone demonstration at the Northern Kentucky Health Department prior to Monday’s luncheon (provided photo).

Earlier in the day, Adams visited the Northern Kentucky Health Department in Florence, to speak with Dr. Lynne Saddler, District Director of Health, and other health officials about the impact of the opioid crisis on the region.

While there Adams also observed a naloxone training demonstration and toured the Department of Public Health’s Mobile Pharmacy Harm Reduction Unit.

The mobile unit’s operators train residents across Kentucky on how to recognize a drug overdose and the proper technique to administer naloxone. It also provides free HIV and hepatitis C testing and offers referrals to treatment for substance use disorders.

At the Luncheon, the Surgeon General shared that he has a personal connection to drug abuse. His brother is serving a 10-year prison sentence in connection to addiction.

“It costs each and every one of you, the taxpayers, over $300,000 to keep him incarcerated for his full prison sentence,” Adams said. “It wouldn’t cost nearly that much to provide him treatment, to have given him an opportunity to recover, and become a productive member of society.”

“We’ve got to see addiction as a chronic disease and not as a moral failing,” Adams said. “No part of the country, no community, no neighborhood, no person is spared from this opioid crisis.”

Surgeon General Jerome Adams takes a selfie with his aunt, Kelly Everett, who is the Business Development Director in the Cincinnati office of American Structurepoint, Inc.

Adams is pushing for different groups to collaborate and form non-traditional partnerships to find the solutions that work best for their areas. He supports a comprehensive effort that focuses on community building, rather than solely on health in the workplace. Focusing on the bigger picture, he says, will have a more lasting impact, even from a business standpoint.

“The best way, the easiest way you all can increase your profitability is by creating a healthier environment,” Adams said. “Healthier communities are more prosperous communities.”

Mental health and heroin use are among the biggest health issues facing Northern Kentucky, St. Elizabeth Healthcare’s Director of Community Relations Scott Sedmak said. However, he believes the region’s various agencies are doing better job communicating with each other.

“St. Elizabeth works with the chamber, we work with the health department, we work with Transitions,” Sedmak said. “That helps make a big difference.”

The Surgeon General ended his remarks by stressing that he is not only committed to tackling the opioid epidemic but also to improving overall community health, and he pressed local leaders to do the same.

“Do it because it matters to your bottom line. Your companies are going to be more prosperous, you’re going to be more profitable, you’re going to be more competitive if we do this. It’s a challenge, it’s a tragedy, but it’s also an opportunity if we just grasp it.”

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