The Surgeon General of the United States generally does not make a lot of headlines, but as the operational head of the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and leading spokesperson on public health in America, his job is a vital one. Nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate, the Surgeon General serves a four-year term and is appointed by members of the US Public Health Service who have specialized training or experience in the field of public health.
The Surgeon General serves as the principal advisor to the Secretary of Health and Human Services and is in charge of a 6,500-member group of health professionals who can be dispatched any time there is a public health emergency. The office occasionally issues health warnings, like the ones that are present on tobacco products. The current Surgeon General of the United States is Dr. Jerome Adams, former Indiana health commissioner.
Who Is Jerome Adams?
Dr. Adams is an anesthesiologist from Indiana, where he served as the state’s Health Commissioner from 2014 to 2017. He earned a BS in biochemistry and a BA in biopsychology at the University of Maryland Baltimore County before attending Indiana University School of Medicine. In 2000, he completed a Master of Public Health degree from the University of California at Berkeley. He is the author of an editorial in the American Journal of Public Health concerning pain management during the current opioid epidemic. Upon confirmation to the post of Surgeon General on August 3 of this year, Adams stated that two of his major priorities during his term will be addressing the opioid epidemic and mental illnesses.
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Why Adams Is Qualified to Tackle the Opioid Epidemic
Adams has a strong reputation as a public health professional who supports community models for fighting addiction. Though once a critic of clean needle exchange programs, he now supports such programs following an HIV outbreak in Indiana that was traced back to needle-sharing.
A member of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), Adams has worked on nationwide programs for combating the current opioid crisis. His combination of leadership experience at the state and national level, clinical expertise, and an informed perspective of opioid abuse due to its effects in his state of Indiana combine to make him a popular choice for the Office of the Surgeon General.
A Rare Oasis of Bipartisanship
Bipartisan support is hard to come by in today’s Washington, yet Adams has received support from both sides of the aisle. This bodes well for his ability to be heard by politicians with a broad range of political ideologies in his quest to start tackling the opioid abuse epidemic. In his nomination committee statement, Adams said, “The addictive properties of prescription opioids is a scourge in America and it must be stopped.”
The current US Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price agrees with Adams that the opioid epidemic and untreated mental illnesses are closely related to each other and are at the root of much of America’s opioid problem.
What Could This Mean for Addiction Treatment?
Adams has spent time before being nominated to the Surgeon General post touring community detox facilities, including the only one in Indiana for people without health insurance. He has the bona fides to understand the value of grassroots efforts in communities. Co-director of the Indiana University Rural Center for AIDS / STD Prevention Beth Meyerson told National Public Radio, “He will navigate [Washington], I suspect, the same way that he did in Indiana, which is to listen to communities, work with several partners across the arena, and bring public health evidence to the table again as an advocate for community health.”
Addiction treatment has become a major public health issue with the increase in opioid misuse in recent years. How much direct effect the US Surgeon General will have in stemming the tide of opioid addiction remains to be seen, but his experience is cause for optimism that opioid addiction and addiction treatment will receive the attention they deserve in coming years.
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