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Treatment and Prevention Are Key in Opioid Crisis, Former Surgeon General Says

Dr. Vivek Murthy describes the type of prevention programs he says can make a difference in thwarting opioid addiction. [Nick Castele / ideastream]
Dr. Vivek Murthy describes the type of prevention programs he says can make a difference in thwarting opioid addiction.

Treatment and prevention programs are an important part of the effort against opioid addiction, the former U.S. surgeon general said in Cleveland yesterday.

Dr. Vivek Murthy spoke at the Global Center for Health Innovation on Thursday with the acting head of the Drug Enforcement Administration and Dr. Toby Cosgrove, the CEO of the Cleveland Clinic.

In an interview before the panel, Murthy said prevention efforts could focus on helping kids learn social and emotional skills.

“Which have a real impact on how they handle stress, how they deal with conflict, and whether or not they turn, to not just drugs, but also unhealthy means like violence, to deal with difficult situations in their life,” Murthy said.

Murthy said the increase in opiate prescriptions in recent decades has also contributed to the crisis. But he said there are barriers to getting treatment.

“One is lack of insurance coverage,” he said. “Second is lack of treatment services in the area. But the third, which we don’t talk about and think about enough, is the unfortunate stigma that’s still associated with addiction more broadly, and with opioid addiction in particular.”

The opioid fentanyl was involved in more than half of Cuyahoga County’s drug overdose deaths last year. Forms of it are often manufactured in labs in China and shipped to the United States, Canada or Mexico.

Chuck Rosenberg, the acting administrator of the DEA, said the U.S. has received some help from China on the issue.

“For the very first time to my knowledge, our Chinese counterparts are passing leads to us that are actionable, that we can use in the United States,” Rosenberg said. “I hope that level of cooperation grows.”

Nick Castele is a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media.