Pubdate: Wed, 18 Jul 2018
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2018 The Baltimore Sun Company
Authors: Lindsey Bever and Lena H. Sun



One of the nation's top public-health officials has explained why the
fight against the opioid epidemic is so personal to him.

At a conference in New Orleans, Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention Director Robert Redfield Jr. opened up about his family's
experience with opioids, saying that one of his adult children nearly
died of an overdose of cocaine mixed with fentanyl, a potent synthetic
opioid that is 30 to 50 times stronger than heroin, according to the
Associated Press.

"For me, it's personal: I almost lost one of my children from it,"
Redfield said Thursday at the National Association of County and City
Health Officials conference, according to the AP.

Redfield on Tuesday declined to comment on his speech but said in a
statement to The Washington Post that he believes it is "important for
society to embrace and support families who are fighting to win the
battle of addiction - because stigma is the enemy of public health."

Since March, Redfield has helmed the CDC - "the nation's health
protection agency," which has been active on the front lines of the
fight against opioid abuse. On its website, the CDC says it "continues
to fight the opioid overdose epidemic, working to save lives and
prevent negative health effects of this epidemic."

During his speech at the county and city health officials conference,
Redfield spoke about the difficulties of finding treatment for his
son, according to Umair Shah, the organization's outgoing head.

"It was a close-to-home story, and he spoke quite personally," Shah,
executive director of the Harris County public-health agency in Texas,
said Tuesday.

According to the AP:

"Public records show that the son, a 37-year-old musician, was charged
with drug possession in 2016 in Maryland. The outcome of the case is
not available in public records."

Shah praised Redfield for speaking out. Too often, he said, medical
and public-health professionals avoid talking about personal
connections or showing emotion.

"We don't want to be seen as too vulnerable or too unprofessional,"
Shah told The Post on Tuesday. "And here he is sharing such an
intimate story."

It shows how important it is for health professionals to "remain
connected to the patients that we serve," Shah added.

After Redfield was appointed director of the CDC in March, he became
emotional in his address to the agency, choking up as he talked about
the honor of leading the best "science-based, data-driven agency in
the world. I've dreamed of doing this for a long time."

As The Post reported, Redfield's main career focus has been chronic
human infections, especially HIV/AIDS. He headed clinical care and
research at the University of Maryland medical school's Institute of
Human Virology. He also oversaw programs caring for 6,000 patients in
the Baltimore-Washington region, as well as for more than 1.3 million
patients in Africa and the Caribbean as part of the President's
Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, known as PEPFAR.

His appointment had drawn criticism because of his once-controversial
positions on HIV testing during the first decade of the AIDS crisis,
his ties to conservative AIDS organizations that supported
abstinence-based prevention and his lack of experience with
governmental public-health organizations.

"I'm a little nervous. I'm an outsider," he said at the time of his
appointment. "I didn't grow up here in CDC, but I hope you accept me
as a member of the family and accept my wife, because we're here to
serve side by side with you."

Pharmaceutical fentanyl has been approved by the Food and Drug
Administration for use by medical professionals - but it's the
illegally manufactured form that has experts concerned.

Opioids, including fentanyl and heroin as well as other painkillers,
are the main culprits of overdose deaths across the United States,
according to the CDC. The number of opioid deaths has continued to
climb, with more than 42,000 fatalities reported across the country in
2016, according to the most recent numbers released by the agency.

- -----------------------------------------------------------

Lindsey Bever is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post, 
covering national news with an emphasis on health. She was previously a 
reporter at the Dallas Morning News.

Lena H. Sun is a national reporter for The Washington Post covering 
health with a special focus on public health and infectious disease. A 
longtime reporter at The Post, she has covered the Metro transit system, 
immigration, education and was the Beijing bureau chief from 1990 to 1994.
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