Dr. Jerome Adams took office in 2017 during one of the most impossibly difficult times one could imagine for the position. He was sworn in just as record addiction was reported in newspapers and on nightly TV and overdose deaths increased exponentially. It is a difficult task for a man thrown into a baptism by fire, but I can hardly think of anyone better suited for the position. After all, Dr. Adams sadly knows addiction first-hand since his brother has struggled with substance use disorders and has been in and out of prison for over two decades.
Dr. Adams watched as his brother Phillip went through all of the cycles we are familiar with. The lying, the cheating, the dishonesty and the theft, which even affected their sister, when Phillip stole money she’d been saving to attend university, just to feed his addiction. The entire family was impacted as they wondered how one son could head to one of the highest offices in the land while the other tragically spiraled into an abyss. Dr. Adams has also seen how the criminal justice system gives short shrift to addiction related crime. Phillip has begged for help while behind bars, time and again, only to be re-buffed by the bureaucracy. It seems that our legal system has a lot of catching up to do in terms of understanding addiction as a disease. Judges and prosecutors are too busy trying to stamp out the symptoms to be bothered with the more vital issue of attacking the root cause. Everyone gets that you don’t put a band-aid on a ruptured artery, you use a tourniquet, yet that simple analogy gets lost when it comes to addiction treatment.
Nonetheless, Dr. Adams remains undaunted and is taking the issue head-on with passion and conviction, driven by personal experience. Given his track record of concrete action and compassion, we may just have the exact right Surgeon General at the exact right time in our nation’s history to help addicts get the help that they desperately need.