Former President Bill Clinton delivered a message of realistic optimism to attendees at the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit in Atlanta Wednesday. But he also acknowledged that the opioid crisis doesn’t seem to be diminishing quickly enough—a frustration held by many stakeholders.
“If there is anything we ought to be able to do together, it’s take a thing like this by the throat and squeeze it until it’s gone,” Clinton said.
Because addiction is affecting every demographic, every state and every constituency of every political party, it has become a nonpartisan issue that Americans can rally around. Clinton said that unity might be “the only silver lining in this miserable, heart-breaking mess.”
Like many Americans, Clinton is close to several families that have been impacted by addiction and overdose—including his own. He shared a personal story about his younger brother who calls him often and on each call reports his total number of days in recovery.
“I still get that number every day,” Clinton said.
Hope through innovation
Clinton spoke of innovations as well. For example, he believes that there is “low-hanging fruit” in terms of basic physiological facts that should be taught as preventive measures. Mixing substances can cause fatal results, but too many individuals don’t know the dangers.
“Right now, this night, two young men I knew died when they went out with their girlfriends and had four or five beers then their girlfriends gave them oxycontin,” Clinton said. “And it gave them a buzz except they fell asleep, and they died alone. And I could have had a truckload of Narcan outside their house, and they would not have survived.”
He also spoke of simple measures to improve practices around prescription opioids, praising the opioid prescribing program from Geisinger, an integrated health system in Danville, Pa. In the last few years, the organization has cut opioid prescribing almost in half by using teams of caregivers to review all prescriptions proactively and manage pain and medication use collaboratively. No one gets an opioid prescription without a review.
The model should be replicated across the country, he said.
“Give me a list of the best practices going forward, like what Geisinger is doing—and figure out how we can adapt that to what we can do,” Clinton said. “Then give me a list of the structural things that need to be changed so we can get the funding to flow where the problems are.”
Although he noted the 600,000 Americans who have died of drug overdose since 2000, Clinton also saluted the Rx Summit attendees.
“Nobody’s got the right to crow like a peacock about how great we are,” he said. “On the other hand, a lot of you deserve medals for all the lives you saved and all the ones you will save.”
Photo by Chris Williams