137: Opioids Get Presidential Attention

Dr. Cathy Slemp, West Virginia’s former state health officer, reflects on President Biden’s comments about America’s opioid epidemic in his recent State of the Union address; Paul Petersen, Director of Emergency Preparedness at the Tennessee...

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Dr. Cathy Slemp, West Virginia’s former state health officer, reflects on President Biden’s comments about America’s opioid epidemic in his recent State of the Union address; Dr. Paul Petersen, Director of Emergency Preparedness at the Tennessee Department of Health, outlines the benefits for attendees of the upcoming 2022 Preparedness Summit in Atlanta; and the CDC Foundation continues its series of conversations about the future of public health.

President Biden’s State of the Union Address

2022 Preparedness Summit

CDC Foundation: Lights, Camera, Action summit series

ASTHO logo



This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Monday, March 14th, 2022. I'm Robert Johnson.

Now, today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.


The president's state of the union address was two weeks ago—a lifetime in Washington, D.C. politics—but his words in support of work to end America's opioid crisis continue to resonate here and across the nation.

Dr. Cathy Slemp is the former state health officer in West Virginia. We wanted to know what she thought about the president's comments. It's the morning conversation.

What were you thinking when you heard the president raised the opioid epidemic in his state of the union address recently?


Well, you know, it's always exciting to see leadership speak to an issue that is so pervasive to our communities and that, you know, far too often, we don't publicly talk about. So, you have to name an issue to prioritize it, and I think when I heard that—it lays the groundwork to support things like funding for treatment with an attention to quality or regulatory changes that can hopefully reduce barriers to MAT, including methadone.

We have to really assure people have wide accessibility to different treatment options or increased funding to prevention, and that's an area that there's just so much opportunity to build upon and approach.


It's so hard to get anything into the state of the union. This has to help.


Definitely. You know, and I think that prevention arena is a really big one that I hope we will think about more and more along the lines to not just address the treatment side, but really getting upstream.


Everything has taken a back seat to COVID-19 the last two years. How do you think public health leaders could get more focus on issues like opioids this year?


Well, you know, I think the two are so intersected. So many of the social and health conditions that made people really highly vulnerable to both the health and the economic effects of COVID also really puts them at risk of substance use. So, perhaps as leaders there's opportunities to interweave recovery from both.

Can we ride the coattails of increased awareness of the importance of mental health—we've all struggled with things through the pandemic, we all know we're vulnerable to that—can we ride those coattails? Can we raise awareness around the role of social vulnerabilities? You know, I think COVID so highlighted the intersection between economy and social conditions and health; and, you know, substance use disorder does that as well, or if not more so.

So, I guess my hope is that with those insights and the visibility that we can bring to it as leaders that—and with commitment—we can kind of play on this intersection between health and social conditions and economy, use those new partnerships we've made in COVID, and really move forward.



Public health leaders will gather in April to discuss emergency preparedness at the 2022 Preparedness Summit. Paul Petersen is director of emergency preparedness at the Tennessee Department of Health.


Attendees of the prep summit can look forward to a wide variety of different topics, anything from pandemic preparedness best practices to supporting at-risk populations, topics like repatriation and refugee support, and even radiation response. There's so much to learn. And those are just a couple of things—I'm just kind of scratching the surface.

There will also be some intentional COVID response listening sessions to engage attendees in a variety of types of conversations, and really bring together the shared experiences that everyone has gone through over the last couple of years.

And then finally, you know, this is really an opportunity to learn some practical solutions that demonstrate how we can actually impact our communities, and what is the return on investment for our federal grant dollars.


The conference is April 4–7 in Atlanta. Get more information using the link in the show notes.


Finally today, public health governance, law, and finance need to be in alignment to keep people healthy. That's the conclusion of a panel of experts that met recently to discuss the connection between these essential functions. The event last month was part of the CDC Foundation's Lights, Camera, Action: Future of Public Health series.

The next summit in this series addresses partnerships and community engagement. That meeting is set for March 23rd. You can register for the event using the link in the show notes.


Before we go, we want to remind you to leave us a rating and a review—each one helps raise our profile and that makes it easier for others to find us online. Also, if you follow the show, you'll never miss a single report. You can do all of this on the channel you're listening to right now.


That'll do it for today's newscast.

We are back tomorrow morning with more ASTHO news and information.


I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition. Have a great day.

Paul Petersen PharmD CEM

Director, Emergency Preparedness, Tennessee Department of Health

Cathy Slemp MD MPH

Former Commissioner and State Health Officer, West Virginia Bureau for Public Health