Tuesday, March 29, 2016

President Obama at the National Rx Drug and Heroin Abuse Summit

Imagine getting the chance to hear the President speak in person.
Now imagine he comes to your home town to offer some thoughts on a given topic.
Finally, imagine the topic of his remarks is the very center of your professional life and something you eat, sleep, and breathe every day.

That was my day today.

As my legendary 12th grade English teacher Ross Friedman would say: today was a 9.9 on the groovy scale (note: there are no 10s... so this was clearly a really great day).

President Obama came to Atlanta today to talk about prescription drug and heroin abuse.  Rather than give a speech from a prepared text, he sat on a panel moderated by CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta along with two recovering addicts and an emergency room doctor who also serves as Baltimore City's Health Commissioner, Dr. Leana Wen (who, by the way, proved to be an incredible advocate for changing the way we view chronic pain and addiction... she issued a standing order in Baltimore so that any citizen in the city can secure a Naloxone prescription - an overdose antidote - under her name.  Just walk into any pharmacy in Baltimore and pick it up.  Beat that with a stick).

This format enabled President Obama to speak extemporaneously and candidly on a range of topics under the umbrella of prescription drug and heroin abuse.  He talked about the Affordable Care Act, mental and behavioral health, criminal justice reform, patient and physician education, addiction prevention, treatment, and recovery.  While I'm not supposed to betray my personal politics on the blog (at least according to my PR advisers), most people who know me know that I'm a fan of the president.  Despite my admitted admiration for Obama, I expected today to be filled with presidential sounding platitudes like "we need more addiction treatment in this country" and other relatively obvious and safe statements.  And he said most of the things I expected him to say along those lines.

But he said more than that.  My impression is that President Obama understands both the policy nuance and personal tragedy of this issue at a level I honestly didn't expect.  This is a guy fighting multiple battles against an array of terrorist organizations, he's steeped in a Supreme Court nomination fight, he's trying to figure out how and where to weigh in on the circus that has become the 2016 presidential election, and he's dealing with a hundred other issues on a daily basis.  But he came to Atlanta today to talk about prescription drug and heroin abuse.  And amidst all of the other issues on his desk, it's evident that he gets this.  And it shows.

When asked by Sanjay Gupta what brought him to Atlanta this afternoon, President Obama offered this: "When I show up, the cameras usually do, too."  He wasn't being arrogant.  He was suggesting that his mere presence, regardless of what he said, helps bring needed attention to this critical issue.  He was saying that he consciously chose to use the power of his office to shine a light on prescription drug and heroin abuse.  And he's right - there certainly were a lot of cameras there today.

He said "we need to think about this [drug abuse issue] as a public health problem, not a criminal justice problem."  Many of us close to this issue agree with that statement, but when the President of the United States says it out loud, it reshapes the broader public dialogue and helps further the aims of those of us who have been thinking that way for years.  Such a public statement will help reshuffle the priorities of agencies like the FBI, DEA, ATF, CDC, and NIH.

He said he was "shocked to learn how little education medical residents receive in pain management."  And as a result, 60 medical schools announced today their intention to significantly enhance pain management training in medical school residency programs.  The bully pulpit is real.

Finally, he said "we medicate... self-medicate... a lot of problems in this country."  I was floored when he said that.  We know that's true, he knows that's true, but for the president to say it out loud is to acknowledge the fundamental need for cultural change necessary to truly stem the tide of prescription drug and heroin abuse.  Perhaps the most deeply rooted of all the root cause issues behind prescription drug abuse is the notion that Americans expect to be pain free, stress free, anxiety free.  Opioids aren't ragingly popular simply because they help manage pain.  Opioids also have psychoactive attributes that make the slings and arrows of our difficult and complicated lives seem easier to handle.  And President Obama said it.  And that matters.

Today was a great day for me, personally and professionally.  I think today might also turn out to be a great day in the broader fight against prescription drug misuse and abuse.  And that's a great day for all of us.

On Twitter @PRIUM1

1 comment:

  1. Great recap, Micheal. Thanks. As you know, I am not a fan of this president, but like you recognize and appreciate his recognition of the problem. And he is right, just by showing up he can make a terrific difference in the battle. I would commend him for that.

    Another quick point - dump your PR advisors. It's a new day in frankness and direct talk. Donald Trump should have taught you that!