Surgeon general offers advice on fighting opioids

Charlie Archambault

The nation’s top doctor offered advice for lawmakers Wednesday on how to help support long-term recovery for people with an addiction, as Congress examines how to curb the opioid epidemic plaguing the country.

Connecting people with support services, such as food and housing, pays off, Surgeon General Jerome Adams said Wednesday at an event hosted by The Hill.

“We’ve got to be more innovative in terms of helping folks understand that providing all these services will increase their chances of success and ultimately lower cost,” Adams said at the event, which was sponsored by Faces and Voices of Recovery and Indivior.

“That’s what I want Congress to know, that’s what I want policymakers to know — we’re not throwing good money after bad; we’re actually getting a return on investment by wrapping people with the
support services they need to be successful in recovery.”

More people now die of deaths from prescription painkillers and heroin than from car accidents. The dramatic rise in overdose deaths has sparked a nationwide debate over how to curb drug abuse.

Adams said he would “politely disagree” with those who say the country needs to move away from a law enforcement approach, saying the issue is more nuanced than that.

“We have to help law enforcement have a public health-informed approach to the way they tackle addiction, but we will never be able to remove law enforcement from the equation,” he said.

“We’ve got to figure out ways to better partner with them.”

Adams said he’s seen the toll of addiction in his own family, relating how his brother self-medicated to cope with untreated mental health issues.

“He ended up committing criminal activity to support his habit and is now in state prison a few miles away from here in Maryland because of his addiction, still not getting treatment,” Adams said, a story he called “far too common.”

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers are working to craft more legislation aimed at curbing the opioid epidemic. Congress recently passed a two-year budget deal that included $6 billion over two years for the opioid and mental health crises. Now lawmakers are hammering out a follow-up to the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), which passed in 2016, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said at the event. He called the new bill “CARA 2.0.”

Whitehouse said he is working with Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) to “make sure that the $6 billion … gets dedicated and appropriated in ways that are consistent with the direction that the Congress displayed in CARA, and so we’re trying to meld the commitment and the CARA principles together,” Whitehouse said at the event, adding, “We’re trying to sort it out fairly quickly.”

The House Energy and Commerce Committee also recently announced it would begin legislative hearings in late February on bills to combat the opioid epidemic.

Tags Rob Portman Sheldon Whitehouse

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