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New Surgeon General is Enlisting the Help of Churches to Help Solve the Opioid Crisis in U.S.

Amber C. Strong : May 24, 2018  CBN News

"I've got to think beyond the traditional health sectors, I've got to think about law enforcement. I've got to think about the educational community and particularly the faith-based community." -Dr. Jerome Adams

(Washington, DC)—[CBN News] From parents overdosing in parking lots, to the deaths of the nation's biggest pop stars like Prince and Tom Petty, the fallout from the country's opioid epidemic hits all levels of society. (Screengrab: Surgeon General, Dr. Jerome Adams/CBN News)

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, overdose deaths, including prescription drugs and heroin, have increased by more than five times since 1999.

Killer Addiction

A killer addiction affecting more than 42,000 people in 2016 alone, which is approximately 116 deaths a day.

All reasons President Trump has vowed to break the stranglehold of opioids.

"I will tell you this scourge of drug addiction in America will stop. It will stop," Trump promised earlier this year.

Just steps away from the White House stood a memorial of 20,000 faces and lives cut short by opioids.

"Each time you look you see a different face," said Dr. Jerome Adams as he toured the memorial.

Strategy: Reduce Supply, Protect Border, Save Lives

Adams, the new Surgeon General, leads a major part of the administration's fight, specifically reducing supply, protecting the border and saving lives.

"As the Surgeon General, I'm really leaning into all three areas in different ways, but particularly the saving lives component," he told CBN News.

Given his vision of, 'Better Health Through Better Partnerships,' the anesthesiologist is looking beyond the beltway for help.

"I've got to think beyond the traditional health sectors, I've got to think about law enforcement. I've got to think about the educational community and particularly the faith-based community," he explained.

Enlisting the Help of the Church in Fighting Opioid Abuse

That's because he sees the Church playing a major part in the fight.

"Some of the best stories in the Bible were when He [Jesus] reached out to non-traditional partners and brought them in," he explained.

So the Department of Health and Human Services put out toolkits for churches, encouraging them to open their doors to programs like Narcotics Anonymous and Celebrate Recovery while also pushing the power of prayer. (Click here for toolkit info)

"They are there feeding the hungry. They are clothing the naked. They are doing the things that are going to be part of a successful long-term recovery for individuals and for our country," Adams explained.

Adams, a Maryland native who studied medicine in Indiana, California, and Zimbabwe, believes those experiences help him see the difference between individual communities.

"Being able to go to different countries and work in different parts of the US helped me to understand that folks in Boston, Massachusetts may think a little bit differently, may have different assets and different challenges than people in Arkansas or Dallas, Texas or California," said Adams.

Controversial Move to Provide Overdose-Reversing Drug to Citizens

Adams made headlines when he issued the first surgeon general advisory in 13 years; a controversial plan to put the overdose-reversing drug Naloxone in the hands of everyday citizens.

Critics claim it promotes addiction.

"There are people out there that say providing Naloxone doesn't make a difference. They're just going to go on to misuse substances again. That would be like me saying I'm not going to do surgery on that trauma patient because they're just going to go out there and speed again and get into another car wreck," Adams explained at the National Drug Abuse Summit in Atlanta.

Adams says access to Naloxone enables life, not addiction. (Screengrab: Dr. Adams touring the Opioid Memorial in DC/via CBN News)

"I met a wonderful gentleman named Travis. Travis has two little children, Travis has overdosed several times and been resuscitated several times. He's now successfully in recovery," Adams recalled.

It's not the first time he's made a tough call.

In 2015, an opioid-induced HIV epidemic ripped through Scott County, Indiana. Addicts there were using dirty needles.

The end result, 181 confirmed cases due to what many called a slow response from the state.

Despite pushback, Adams, as health commissioner at the time, called for a clean needle exchange to curtail the outbreak.

"We had to help them understand we weren't enabling drug use by having a syringe service program. By designing it in concert with the faith-based community we were enabling recovery," he recalled.

Every Life Has Value

Each act shows the belief of this husband and father of three that life has value.

"None of us knows what God has in store for us. It's incredibly arrogant of us to think that we should judge other people or that we can determine that someone's life is no longer worth living," Adams defended.

The team here at the Surgeon General's office know the battle is more than just a job and that, for Dr. Adams, it's personal.

"My little brother Phillip is in a state prison right now [because] he stole $200 to support his habit," Adams said.

"If I, as surgeon general, could not have prevented my brother from going down that pathway alone, I think the message is 'no one can prevent it alone,'" he encouraged.

Adams believes sharing his own testimony can help others.

"Stigma is a word we talk about a lot, and stigma is when we can separate a group of people into us and them. The way you lower stigma is by helping folks realize everyone is affected," he said.

As the son of two teachers, Adams says his parents always taught him to serve others, now he gets that chance, as the top doctor to a nation in need of a cure.







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