DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Each day, the opioid epidemic claims more than 115 lives in this country. President Trump declared this a public health emergency last fall. During his State of the Union address, Trump said he expected the struggle against opioids will be long and difficult but that stronger enforcement of the law would help the country prevail.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We must get much tougher on drug dealers and pushers If we are going to succeed in stopping this scourge.
GREENE: Today, the White House is holding a summit with stakeholders and families to highlight actions the administration has taken to try and combat the opioid crisis. President Trump's surgeon general, Jerome Adams, will be there. He's the nation's top public health official, and he joins me on the line. Dr. Adams, welcome to the program.
JEROME ADAMS: Good morning, David.
GREENE: I want to start by pointing out that this crisis is very personal to you. I know your younger brother, Philip, has struggled with addiction for for years now, right? And he's been cycling in and out of incarceration.
ADAMS: Absolutely. He's in state prison right now. I took my 12 and 13-year-old boys to go visit him just last Sunday. And I can tell you, unfortunately, we're like many families in America in that his history of frequent incarceration is directly related to his untreated substance misuse disorder and his unrecognized and untreated mental health issues.
GREENE: You blame the incarceration for many of his struggles?
ADAMS: Well, I don't blame it. He did commit wrong actions. But what we're trying to do is make sure folks are getting the treatment that they need because we can't arrest our way out of the problem. We've heard folks say it over and over again, and it is so true. We want to give people the option to get better and not just punish them.
GREENE: Well, you heard the president - the clip that we played there. A lot of critics say that the president and your administration is focusing too much on law enforcement and not enough on treatment. Can you respond to that?
ADAMS: Well, David, I appreciate that point. And as surgeon general, my job is to convene people to try to bring people together. My motto is better health through better partnerships. And folks will tell you, public health people will tell you, the number one touch point for individuals with mental health issues and substance use disorder, unfortunately, is the law enforcement community. So we cannot solve this problem, we cannot dig our way out of this epidemic unless we engage with law enforcement. I hope to work with law enforcement and help them understand that we need a public health-informed approach. But law enforcement is critical.
GREENE: But what can you tell people who are desperate to focus on treatment? I mean, is there something specific that the administration is doing or proposing when it comes to helping people like your brother in terms of getting treatment?
ADAMS: Well, I'm so glad you asked that question. And that's why today's event at the White House is important. There are really three things I'm hoping to get out of today's event. No. 1 we want America to understand this is a problem. And I'm an avid NPR listener, so I can speak from that point of view and tell you that a lot of your listeners may not believe that America doesn't see this as a problem. But the majority of the public does not see the opioid epidemic as rising to the level of an emergency. So it's important that we continue to say at the highest levels this is a problem in all communities, and it's getting worse.
No. 2, there is hope. The administration has prioritized the issue of implementing strategies around saving lives, lowering demand and lowering supply. And you're going to hear about those initiatives today at the White House. And then No. 3, there's something every one of your listeners can do. They can get engaged. They can talk about addiction in their communities. They can understand pain better. And they can be safe. They can be prepared and carry naloxone. If we can come out of today having moved the ball a little bit further down the field in those areas, I think we'll be closer to turning this thing around.
GREENE: But with respect, I mean, it's - I know messaging is important. I know talking about the the severity of the problem is important. But could you help our listeners right now with one specific treatment program that the administration is supporting, something on the ground that you can say that the Trump administration is supporting?
ADAMS: Absolutely. The Trump administration is supporting increasing funding for drug courts. The Trump administration has also tripled the amount of funding going to SAMHSA for treatment from just under $500 million to $1.5 billion. The president has requested and Congress is moving through the largest allocation for opioid treatment and response in the history of the United States - $6 billion.
And so it's important that the public knows we've got a long way to go. Make no mistake about it. We don't want to sugarcoat this. But there are actions that are being taken. We're working each and every day to respond to this epidemic. And we are making a difference. You're seeing places like Rhode Island, places like Massachusetts who have actually turned around their overdose death curve. So we can get there.
GREENE: Is that money? I mean, you're talking about billions of dollars. Is that just stuff that's being talked about, or is that stuff that actually is getting close to, you know, being approved by Congress and getting into some of these communities?
ADAMS: It's actually been approved by Congress, and it simply has to be allocated. But the president asked for it. Congress has approved it, and it's going to be getting out into communities soon. So this is an important message for every single one of your listeners. Communities need to be talking about how best to spend that money and making sure on a state and local level they are asking for and getting that money from SAMHSA and through Medicaid waivers and through all the different mechanisms that we have to funnel that money down to communities.
GREENE: At the end of the day, I know you have said one of the most frustrating things is being the surgeon general of the United States and feeling like you can't help your own brother. How optimistic are you, even with a summit, even with talking about potentially new funding, that this government is getting somewhere close to dealing with such a severe crisis?
ADAMS: Well, I don't believe that we can solve this problem here from Washington, D.C. And it's why I've traveled all over the country and will continue to. I'm optimistic that if we can get the business community, the faith-based community, the public health community, the law enforcement community all together to work on this issue, that, just as we've seen in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, we can turn this thing around. But it starts at the local level.
GREENE: Jerome Adams, Dr. Jerome Adams is the surgeon general of the United States. He's part of President Trump's team that will be hosting a summit on the opioid epidemic at the White House today. Dr. Adams, thanks for your time.
ADAMS: Thank you. And please tune into the summit today. There's going to be a lot of great information coming out for your listeners. I appreciate the time, David.
GREENE: All right. Thank you, Dr. Adams.
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