US surgeon general says opioid crisis is top priority

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CHICAGO -- There are 50,000 people who will die in the opioid crisis this year alone. It’s a public health epidemic that has consumed the country, making it a top priority for the U.S. surgeon general, who came to Chicago Thursday to educate and stop the stigma.

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams and U.S. Representative Peter Roskam, whose 6th District includes parts of DuPage County—an area at the center of the opioid addiction epidemic, sat shoulder to shoulder talking strategy and priorities with community members and caregivers on the frontlines of the public health crisis.

But for Adams, fighting the epidemic is not just part of his job – it’s personal. His brother is currently in a Maryland state prison. He said he had unrecognized, untreated anxiety and depression, which led him to self-medicate.

“…then one day, someone gave him a pill that they got from a med cab and that declined into injection drug use,” he said.

He said he wants people to know that if it can happen to the brother of the U.S. surgeon general, it can happen to anyone.

He shared his story with the audience made up of doctors, first responders, treatment and recovery specialists and families like the Baldwins, whose son has battled an opioid addiction since the age of 14. He’s now 28 and in prison. His parents worry about what will happen when he is released. They’re advocating for better long-term treatment and recovery programs.

“They end up in sober homes with people like themselves who don’t have any willpower or guidance or structure and they end up relapsing,” Scott Baldwin said.

Baldwin said the family is trying to advocate on his son’s behalf and wants to let the powers in Washington and the surgeon general know it’s a component that is being overlooked.

Others in attendance asked for even more accessibility to naloxone – perhaps making the highly effective drug that reverses an overdose an over the counter medication in the near future.

“There are regulations and laws right now that prevent naloxone from being available over the counter, it is certainly something we are exploring on a federal level,” Adams said.

“It is now reaching an epidemic level. The good news I think people really are responding people coming together to discuss short-term and long-term things that we need to be dealing with,” Roskam said.

The surgeon general has created a digital postcard people can download and share. It’s designed to educate and reduce the stigma associated with an opioid addiction. To share the postcard visit

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