Diplomats explore opioid crisis and anti-vaccination surge with America’s Doctor

U.S. Surgeon General VADM Jerome Adams demonstrates how to use Narcan | Photo by Ralph Alswang

The complexity of the U.S. healthcare system is difficult for Americans to comprehend. Now imagine U.S. Surgeon General VADM Jerome Adams’ task to make sense of this for an audience of foreign diplomats. To demonstrate the complexity, he pointed out that countries which have fought wars with each other, such as France and Germany, often maintain healthcare systems much more aligned than we do here among each of the states. The systems in Texas and Massachusetts, he explained, are worlds apart. One example is that some states use settlement money from lawsuits on tobacco companies to prioritize treatment and prevention, others may instead backfill their operating budgets. The framing of climate change, as either a health issue or a jobs issue, may also differ based on a state’s core constituencies. Adams’ remarks were made during an Insights @ Meridian briefing for the international diplomatic corps focused on America’s opioid crisis, growing American skepticism on vaccines, and struggle of Americans to maintain healthy habits.

Moderated by Dr. Nicole Saphier, Medical Contributor for Fox News Channel, the afternoon conversation compared and contrasted the U.S. system with that of other nations around the world. With the rising opioid crisis causing over 130 deaths a day and an overall decreasing life expectancy, the U.S. is lagging behind other developed countries when it comes to health policy. This is most obvious when it comes to economic disparities in access and affordability of healthcare. Adams asserted that other interventions that help health should be considered health care, such as a living wage. In fact, according to Adams, U.S. domestic policy has had a tendency to focus on “sickcare” rather than healthcare. In this explanation, Adams pointed to Blue Zones around the world, in which communities have environments more conducive to healthy habits, such as walking or biking to work. Adams explained to the assembled ambassadors, health counselors and other senior diplomats that policy can emphasize individual choice, while making the healthy choice easier and more accessible to the general public. “We need to fund upstream,” Adams said, “[and] address the root of the problem.” In other words, innovation may only be only useful when accessible. Providing a framework for the discussion, Adams shared insight into his brother’s addiction to opioids. He also gave a demonstration on how to use Narcan, a nasal spray, and EVZIO, a pre-filled auto-injection device, which reverse opioid overdose. Adams aims to increase the availability of these drugs for everyone in the U.S.

VADAM Adams also emphasized better health through better public partnerships. He suggested engaging with communities directly to work together on solutions, rather than through mandates. As an example of public mistrust, Adams pointed to the anti-vaccine movement. According to Adams, the best solution that remains is to empower providers to educate their patients and communities to make healthy choices. Whether it’s eradicating measles or Ebola, “everyone wants what is best for their family,” Adams concluded. This includes the Surgeon General. Adams explained that he is the first Surgeon General who has school-age children and this helps shape his priorities and messaging in his role as “America’s doctor.”

Insights@Meridian and other Meridian Center for Diplomatic Engagement programs serve to provide the international diplomatic corps with a better understanding of U.S. domestic policies from multiple perspectives. For more information, please visit meridian.org/diplomacy.

Meridian thanks Bayer for their generous support of this program.

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Project summary

Diplomats explore opioid crisis and anti-vaccination surge with America’s Doctor | May 2019
Number of Attendees: 35
Regions: Africa, East Asia and Pacific, Europe and Eurasia, Western Hemisphere
Countries: Angola, Canada, Italy, Kenya, Malaysia, Mexico, Namibia, Netherlands, Peru, Senegal, Singapore, Switzerland, Zambia
Impact Areas: Energy and the Environment, Global Health, Science and Technology
Program Areas: Convening
Partners: Private Sector, Public Sector