HUNTINGTON — Speaking with a physician’s plain, calm precision as both the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the father of an adult son recovering from addiction, Dr. Robert Redfield offered encouragement and praise for the multi-disciplinary directness the Tri-State has built in addressing its own portion of the nation’s opioid epidemic.
“I haven’t seen a community like this that’s come together to get concrete solutions and is building an environment where people can get access to care and support really on demand,” Redfield said Monday morning before a packed conference of local medical professionals at
Cabell Huntington Hospital’s Regional Health Summit in Huntington.
“As you operationalize that, I think it will provide leadership for other communities to look at, and to see the possible.”
Redfield praised in particular the region’s established health care systems and academic medical institutions for actively engaging the problem — whereas their national peers may still feel comfortable leaving addiction treatment to much smaller, isolated centers.
Still in his first year as CDC director, he added his hope to re-engage the full scope of the medical community as part of the nation’s public health system, particularly in treating what he reiterated as “the public health crisis of our time.”
“You’ve got a medical school (at Marshall University) that actually wants to do this,” Red-field said. “You’ve got hospital systems that actually want to do this. You’ve got medical and community leaders who actually want to do this.”
Redfield also pointed out local innovations like PROACT, Lily’s Place and the Quick Response Teams as examples for the nation to follow.
“I think you’re in a very unique position to begin to put it together to show that, believe it or not, successfully confronting the opioid epidemic, and drug abuse and stopping overdose deaths, is possible,” he said.
“You need people like this to come together.”
Health systems and hospitals had in the past been content with simply staying on the sidelines, pointed out Kevin Fowler, president/CEO of Cabell Huntington Hospital. They occasionally helped physicians treat spot cases of addiction, but never took the first steps in leading the way, he said.
That way of thinking, he continued, cannot apply to the present day and the issue of widespread opioid use.
“It’s clear that, when putting together this health system for the entire region, that we have to lead the way,” Fowler said. “We need to be the ones that are out there. We have the resources that perhaps other small agencies don’t have, but we can work and collaborate with them in a much different way than we had in the past.”
That means treating the whole health of the population — socially and behaviorally, too — rather than simply in a clinical sense, he added.
“It’s our responsibly as we see it in this community to step up and do our part,” Fowler said.
Aside from acknowledging the region’s professionals for stepping up to solve their own problems, Redfield outlined what he hopes the CDC can do for the nation’s communities. He pointed to re-engaging medical records into treatment methods—and quickly, looping-in these records between states into a national system, and providing guidelines for prescribing pain medication.
While he believes science will eventually break the spell of addiction, Redfield added it’s critical in the meantime for communities like Huntington to continue to create an environment proving that success is possible.
“The key is not to lose heart,” he continued. “Because you’re not at the end, you’re in the mid-dle.
“But I’ll tell you, you’re not at the beginning anymore.”