Press Room

Health Officials and Attorneys General Convene to Discuss Legal and Public Health Solutions to Opioid Epidemic

ARLINGTON, VA (Nov. 15, 2016) The Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) and the National Attorneys General Training and Research Institute, a branch of the National Association of Attorneys General, held an inaugural three-day summit with health officials and attorneys general on Nov. 14-16 to promote coordination across public health, law enforcement, and medical professionals to address opioid abuse and misuse, an epidemic that claims the lives of 78 people each day and has now become one of the nation’s most urgent public health threats.

At the meeting, health officials and attorneys general discussed the importance of working together to change the conversation about people with substance use disorders, and the need to move from punitive approaches toward compassionate, evidence-based treatment. Health and law enforcement officials are intensifying efforts to improve prescribing practices, apply effective regulatory and enforcement measures, and eliminate stigma and misconceptions about individuals who seek addiction treatment.

“We need to reframe the conversation about addiction, from one about bad choices and moral failings to one about chronic health conditions that affect the brain,” says Jay Butler, ASTHO president and chief medical officer for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. “Together, public health and law enforcement officials have a critical role to play in ending this epidemic that continues to devastate our families and communities.”

ASTHO’s 2017 President’s Challenge, led by Butler, centers around public health approaches to preventing substance misuse and addictions. Through the challenge, ASTHO will unite and rally state health officials, affiliates, and other cross-sector partners to take action on this critical and urgent public health issue within states and communities. State health officials will work to expand primary prevention efforts in their states to educate consumers, prescribers, families, policymakers, and other partners about opioid use, and address risk factors in communities to reduce demand for drugs and other addictive substances.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Michael Botticelli also delivered remarks on Monday, calling for greater integration of substance use disorder services into the healthcare system so that addiction can be treated with the same precision and urgency as other health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or cancer. Nationally recognized experts and thought leaders from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the American Medical Association, and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health also described federal and state policy options, strategies for engaging medical professionals, and promising community-based prevention initiatives.

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ASTHO is the national nonprofit organization representing the public health agencies of the United States, the U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia, as well as the more than 100,000 public health professionals these agencies employ. ASTHO members, the chief health officials of these jurisdictions, are dedicated to formulating and influencing sound public health policy and to ensuring excellence in state-based public health practice.

Contact: Jane Esworthy (571) 318-5431; jesworthy@astho.org. Follow us on Twitter.