Dr. Jerome Adams, U.S. surgeon general, emphasized Tuesday that it takes partnerships for communities to reverse the tide of an opioid epidemic that has claimed tens of thousands of lives across the nation.
Adams, keynote speaker for the National Opioid Crisis Community Summit at Aberdeen Proving Ground, also stressed that each person has their own role to play. He said they need to talk with others about drug addiction, obtain accurate information about the nature of addiction, which he stressed is a “chronic disease” or carry Naloxone to revive somebody suffering from an overdose.
“We can’t solve the opioid crisis from our silos ... we must partner in order to have a comprehensive and effective response,” Adams said.
An estimated 250 to 300 people attended the day-long summit at APG’s Mallette Training Facility, according to Philip Molter, a spokesperson for the Harford County Army post.
Aberdeen Proving Ground hosted the same opioid summit at its Edgewood Area in September 2017. Maj. Gen. Randy S. Taylor, the post’s senior commander, pledged the Army’s expertise and support for communities in Maryland, including Harford County, battling opioid epidemics.
The audience at the summits, both last year and this year, included top local government officials from Cecil and Harford counties, municipal and county law enforcement leaders, emergency services officials and health care representatives.
A number of soldiers, wearing green fatigue uniforms, were in the audience, too.
Adams said he was “blown away” to see such a diverse group from the civilian and military communities.
“It’s a testament to the importance of an issue, because we don’t usually all come together to talk about things,” he said.
Adams also discussed how he has been personally affected by the opioid epidemic. He is a Maryland native who grew up in St. Mary’s County and noted how The Free State’s overdose rate is nearly double the national average.
He said his younger brother, Phillip, is serving a 10-year prison sentence “for crimes he committed to support his addiction” to drugs.
Adams said stories similar to his brother’s can be found throughout the U.S.
“Addiction can literally happen to anyone, even to the brother of the United States surgeon general,” he said.
Adams said he has three children, ages 9, 12 and 14, and he has brought his two oldest to visit their uncle in prison. He also cited findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicating life expectancy in the U.S. has declined for two of the past three years.
Overdoses and suicides are significant drivers of that trend, according to the CDC website.
Adams stressed that “no one has been spared” from overdoses, which have happened across racial, ethnic, geographic, academic and economic boundaries.
“We literally risk losing an entire generation and subjecting yet another generation, their children, to lives without parents and without role models,” he said.
There are measures people can take to stem the tide, though. Adams encouraged people to visit the surgeon general’s website, https://www.surgeongeneral.gov, for his “digital postcard” on addiction.
It includes five tips for people — talking about drug addiction and overdoses; safely using, storing and disposing of prescription drugs; learning ways to treat pain other than opioids understanding that addiction is a disease but recovery is possible; and keeping Naloxone handy to save a person from an overdose.
Adams said people should print the postcard, hang it up, share it via social media “so we all can do our part to combat the opioid crisis.”
He said “saturating the community with Naloxone” has been key in areas that have seen a turnaround in local overdose rates.
The Harford County Sheriff’s Office, which records suspected opioid overdoses, reported in October a 7 percent drop in fatal overdoses, compared to the same time the previous year. The total number of overdoses had increased from 2017, however.
The Sheriff’s Office reported 478 total overdoses, 79 fatal, as of this week, according to the agency website.
Local law enforcement, along with the county government, school system, community groups and individuals have been working since 2015 to get Harford’s addiction crisis under control. Army personnel at APG have been lending their support more recently, through initiatives such as talking with young people about the dangers of drugs.
Adams said, in an interview following his remarks, that Harford is beginning to see progress “because they started having a conversation.”
“I want to commend General Taylor, and I want to commend Aberdeen Proving Ground and all the folks who are here from Harford County, coming together to help respond to the opioid epidemic,” he said. “They are making a difference.”
Adams said one of the most powerful parts of the event, for him, were stories people told about their recovery from addiction.
He said that the more those stories are shared, “the more folks realize that yes, we are in a terrible hole [but] we can dig ourselves out of it and people can and do recover every day.”