By Dave Sharos
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams believes the problem of opioid addiction is not only affecting the nation’s health, but the economy and our security as well.
“The facts are that seven out of 10 of our young people between the ages of 18 and 24 are ineligible to serve in the military because of poor health or the inability to pass a physical,” Adams said Wednesday during a forum in Sugar Grove that focused on drug addiction. “Employers continue to tell us they can’t find enough workers to fill their positions because they can’t pass the drug tests, so the problems in this country are not just affecting our health.”
Adams was the featured speaker at the forum at Waubonsee Community College, and was joined by law enforcement and health officials including Kane County State’s Attorney Joseph McMahon and Kendall County Sheriff Dwight Baird, William Gentes – project coordinator for the Lake County Health Department – and Nicholas Roti, director of the Chicago High Intensity Trafficking Area.
Adams said he also has a personal reason for fighting drug abuse in America.
“I have a brother who is currently serving 10 years in prison because he stole $200 to support his addiction,” Adams said. “It will cost about $1 million to keep him in prison, but he’ll get no treatment. We have to give law officials more than just the ‘hammer’ because then everything just looks like a nail.”
Adams urged a change in the culture, noting that “a stigma exists everywhere among the medical profession, the law, and society in general” and that drug addiction “is a disease, not a moral failing.”
“It’s important to get out from the bubble in Washington, D.C., and look at our initiatives and see if they are working and playing out the way we thought they would,” Adams said. “If they are, we need to keep doing those things and if not – we need to figure out what would work better.”
He also warned about Americans becoming desensitized to the use of pills in general, and said that “kids reach for pills in their grandmother’s medicine cabinet today like people did for a beer decades ago.”
“The facts are that four out of five individuals that do injection drugs started with pills,” he said.
St. Charles Police Cmdr. Chuck Pierce attended the forum, and said “the opioid issue is one of the largest problems our society is dealing with.”
“My hope is to learn more about what the federal government is doing and also what is working here in Illinois,” Pierce said.
Elburn’s Sarah Briley is a clinical director of Addiction Treatment at AMITA Health Alexian Brothers, and said that drug issues have increased dramatically in her career.
“I’ve been in this field 18 years, and there are at least 50 percent more cases now than when I first started,” Briley said. “The surgeon general is working to provide more access to care and as a result, people in local municipalities are finding treatment.”
Woodstock’s Rob Mutert said he was representing the non-profit group WARP Corps, a suicide and opioid addiction prevention group, and was also hoping to bring back more information about what was happening at the federal and state level.
“Information from the federal level is critical to have as we’re one of those organizations where the rubber meets the road,” Mutert said. “We’re very much in a reality-based position.”
U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Plano) sponsored the forum.