U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar spoke in Kettering Friday about the federal government’s interest in combating the opioid crisis.
Congressman Mike Turner, a Republican serving the 10th District of Ohio (Montgomery, Greene, Fayette counties), also spoke to reporters following the Health Secretary’s appearance on efforts to secure federal funding for inpatient and medicated-assisted treatment (MAT).
Azar spoke at the inpatient treatment facility Brigid’s Path, alongside two foster parents, Jill Kingston and Cyndi Swafford. According to Azar’s communications staff, Azar’s March 2 visit to Kettering immediately followed an event in Washington with Kellyanne Conway and the Trump administration.
Kingston, a foster parent, is also the founder of Brigid’s Path.
“About five years ago I became a foster parent and learned about babies who are withdrawing from heroin and felt a bigger calling to do something more in this community, and this community wrapped around us and became an advocate to help open an organization like Brigid’s Path,” said Kingston. “We’ve had babies already at Brigid’s Path in the last two months and the difference that it makes to have babies in a home-like setting is tremendous. We’ve had all of our babies stay out of foster care when they leave here, so it’s been a huge blessing to be able to connect families, connect them to services that are already in our community, and really advocate for the families through this journey that they’re facing. We are privately funded right now and so our goal is to work at the state level and the federal level to receive Medicaid, so having the Secretary here, with what we’re doing, has been a huge blessing.”
Following Kingston’s remarks, foster parent Cyndi Swafford spoke.
Swafford said, “Thank you Jill, and thank you Secretary Azar. It is an honor to be among these people today and we are thrilled to have the secretary join us here to look at what is going on in Montgomery County and in Ohio in regards to the opioid epidemic. In recent months I have been to meetings several times in regards to the situation. I am thrilled to know that our government and people making decisions from the top down are interested in what’s going on right here in Ohio. They’re interested in helping those that are struggling with drug addiction; they’re interested in helping the children that are affected by this addiction problem and they’re interested in making some changes hopefully that are going to impact and better the many, many people that are affected by this drug problem right now. It’s honor for me to be here, again, and we look forward to the coming months and the changes I’m sure are coming.”
Next, Health Secretary Azar spoke.
“I first want to begin by thanking Brigid’s Path, the organization in particular; Jill Kingston, for hosting us and really sharing the miracle of what they are doing here. You know, Jill, the work that is happening here is just unbelievable and if I could, I would nominate you for sainthood. It’s just the life-saving power of what I got to see today,” said Azar.
Azar said that it was “unbelievable the impact” that he had seen on one young woman in treatment at Brigid’s Path.
“She and her 7-week-old daughter in the program here, and just to see the transformation in her life is here: she’s got the strength, she’s got the future — she’s going to, I’m confident — she and her daughter are going to have. Just moved me to tears, it was unbelievable,” said Azar.
Azar also thanked Swafford, who, Azar said, has been in Ohio and on the national stage working as a tireless advocate for the children.
“Thank you for everything that you’ve done and keep doing. The stories that I was privileged to hear from the young woman that I mentioned before, from teenagers who themselves suffer from this addiction, who had their brothers stolen from them, their parents stolen from them, their grandparents stolen from them, just unbelievably powerful. These voices help inform everything that we do at the federal level as we try to help our state and our localities, the people that are on the front lines of this work,” said Azar.
“We’re here today because President Trump has made the opioid crisis a top priority for all of his administration including the Department of Health and Human Services. But he’s also made it a particular priority to listen to those that are on the front lines here in the state, at the local level, to understand how we help you. The crisis has hit hard in the Midwest and in Ohio in particular. In my home state of Indiana, where I came from this morning, saw a 23 percent increase in drug overdose deaths in 2016, while here in Ohio, we’ve seen a 30 percent increase. We work closely with communities that have been particularly hard hit by this crisis, including cities and towns across Ohio,” said Azar.
“We’re also tackling specific health challenges presented by the epidemic, like the heartbreaking challenge of the infants who are born dependent on opioids. HHS is focused on this challenge, and how best to treat neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS, and support mothers and children who are struggling with it,” said Azar.
Azar said the National Institutes of Health launched a new effort last year to support clinical trials regarding NAS and said the HHS mental health agency recently released treatment guidelines for working with post-partum women.
“Much more on all these fronts is needed,” said Azar. “And we’re going to take what we’ve heard today, and what we’ve learned today, and bring it back to our work as we drive forward. I just want to say, again, from the bottom of my heart, thank you again for having me here today, and thank you for sharing your stories. America needs to hear these stories, your stories. Just as you have done here in your community, as a country we have got to step up and support each other and heal each other together,” said Azar.
See more in the Record-Herald this week about the Health Secretary’s visit to Ohio.
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