Surgeon General says preventing addiction requires looking at larger community problems

Stephanie Allen, left, Surgeon General Jerome Adams, Jay Butler and Elizabeth Ripley are part of a panel discussion at the Prevention Summit in Palmer. (Photo by Anne Hillman)

United Way of Mat-Su executive director Stephanie Allen, left, Surgeon General Jerome Adams, Chief Medical Officer Jay Butler and Mat-Su Health Foundation CEO Elizabeth Ripley are part of a panel discussion at the Prevention Summit in Palmer. (Photo by Anne Hillman/Alaska Public Media)

Surgeon General Jerome Adams spoke at the Alaska Prevention Summit panel in Palmer, as part of a larger Alaska tour talking about solutions to the opioid epidemic.

Adams told Glenn Massay Theater crowd Tuesday that he sees some progress in combating the epidemic.

Doctors are prescribing opioids less frequently, but the drugs are still available.

“The first drug dealer for the majority of folks isn’t some bad guy out on the street,” Adams said. “It’s grandma, it’s aunt, it’s uncle. It’s the next-door neighbor. It’s you all. It’s us, who have left medications in our cabinets.”

Alaska Department of Health and Social Services distributes drug disposal bags that make opioids unusable to hopefully solve that issue.

Medications can also be taken back to pharmacies and police departments.

Mat-Su Health Foundation partners with other groups to address childhood trauma in trying to prevent opioid addictions, CEO Elizabeth Ripley said, which means getting at the root of some community problems, such as racism and the unequal representation of people of color in the foster care and criminal justice systems.

“A crucial part of what we have to do is go upstream and say ‘We’re causing stress for certain segments of our community in disproportionate ways, and we have to break down those barriers,’” Ripley said.

Mat-Su region organizations host Undoing Racism workshops and conversations around race to begin that process.

During an interview after the panel conversation, Adams said addressing the opioid crisis has opened the door for larger conversations.

“When you look at untreated mental health issues, when you look at un-wellness in our communities, all those lead to substance use disorder,” Adams said. “If we use this tragedy as an opportunity to address those upstream causes then we’ll solve not only the opioid epidemic but so many other health woes that are affecting our country.”

Helping people understand that health affects all aspects of our society, including the economy, is part of the strategy.

“Investing in health is also investing in jobs,” Adams said. “It’s also investing in safety and security. It’s investing in the things that they care about and they vote on. And if we don’t invest in those things it’s going to continue to be a drag on our economy, on our safety, and our ability to devote resources to the things that we care about.”

To accomplish these larger goals, Adams said communities need to focus on developing new partnerships with businesses, the faith community, and treatment providers that the use limited funding more efficiently and effectively.

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