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Surgeon General Discusses Opioid Abuse at HSPH Event

The Kresge Building at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
The Kresge Building at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. By Megan M. Ross

United States Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams called for individually tailored approaches to the opioid epidemic at a School of Public Health event on Wednesday.

Adams called for a multifaceted approach to the epidemic that tailors treatment to the specific needs of every patient, which he said is one of the most important features patients should look for in a treatment center.

“You need to find a program that is going to evaluate, diagnose, and treat you based on your individual story, and not try to throw a one-size-fits-all approach at you,” Adams said.

Robert J. Blendon, a professor of public health and healthy policy, moderated the discussion as part of the school’s “Voices in Leadership” series.

During the talk, which was attended by roughly 50 people, Adams also advocated for widespread access to Naloxone, a medication designed to treat opioid overdoses in emergency situations. Naloxone use has increased across the nation in response to the opioid epidemic, creating shortages and high prices, according to the Washington Post.

Monica Bharel, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, also spoke at the event, underscoring the severity of the state’s opioid epidemic. Bharel, a graduate of the School of Public Health herself, said that nearly six people die per day from opioid overdoses in Massachusetts.

“For the last several years in our administration, it’s been our primary public health priority to respond to this opioid epidemic,” she said.

Her agency’s response has included education about the risks of opioids, enhanced training for healthcare professionals, and monitoring of painkiller prescriptions.

Adams asserted the broader importance of public health to American national security and economic vitality. He said that roughly seven in 10 American youths are ineligible for military service, often for health reasons.

“We are a less safe country right now because we are a less health country than what we know we could be and should be,” he said.

Adams, an anesthesiologist by training, served as the State Health Commissioner of Indiana from 2014 to 2017 before President Donald Trump nominated him to be surgeon general last June. During his time in Indiana, he worked to address the state’s HIV epidemic, to decrease infant mortality, and to fashion an alternative to Medicare expansion.

The Voices in Leadership program brings figures from government, academia, and international affairs to the School of Public Health to give talks on policy and public affairs.

Eric R. Andersen, deputy director of Voices in Leadership, said the program forms part of the School of Public Health’s leadership studio, and helps students transition into public health affairs after they graduate. Andersen said Adam’s remarks helped clarify the role that the surgeon general plays in the federal government and provided information about the opioid epidemic.

Last year’s program speakers, whom Andersen describes as “leaders in the space of public health,” included Senator Elizabeth Warren and former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

—Staff writer Luke W. Vrotsos can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at luke_vrotsos.

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