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Mike Bloomberg’s Keynote at The Bloomberg American Health Initiative

“Thank you, Ron, for those very kind words.

“I also want to thank Ellen McKenzie, our talented dean of the school of public health at Johns Hopkins. Ellen, you’re doing an incredible job – keep up the great work.

“Let me also thank two people who are leading the Bloomberg American Health Initiative at Johns Hopkins: Director Josh Sharfstein and Associate Director Michelle Spencer.

“And let me thank all of you for being a part of this summit. You’re the ones who are in the trenches, day in and day out – doing all the hard work. And there is no more important work than saving and improving lives. I know you don’t often get the recognition you deserve, but you are heroes in my book – and I think you all deserve a big round of applause.

“When we decided to create the Bloomberg American Health Initiative with Johns Hopkins two years ago, bringing people together like this was always part of our intention. All the challenges that you’ve been discussing are critically important, and our foundation is glad to support the work that many of you are doing.

“This morning, I would like to zero in on just one of the challenges – one that is ripping at the hearts of so many families and communities: Addiction. And I would like to begin by asking everyone to please take a moment to look down at your chair – and see what color it is. That’s right: Please take a look and see what color your chair is.

“Now: If you are sitting in a blue chair – please stand up.

“Take a look around. 130 people are standing. 130 is the estimated number of Americans who will die of an opioid overdose today. 130 more people will die from opioids tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, if nothing changes.

“Thank you – please sit. Now: If you’re in a red chair, please stand.

“There are 60 of you standing. 60 is the number of Americans who have gotten a prescription for opioids in the 10 seconds since I asked you to “please stand”! Do the math. 60 prescriptions in 10 seconds – which means six opioid prescriptions are written every single second in this country. That adds up to more than 500,000 prescriptions every day!

“Thank you – please sit. Now: If you are in a black chair, please stand.

“One person. This one person represents one child, somewhere in America, who was removed from his or her parents’ care because of their opioid addiction since I began speaking. By the time I’m done speaking to you this morning, another child will be separated from his or her parents, because of the dangers of opioid addiction. By the end of the day, that number will reach 240. That’s 240 children taken from their parents – 240 families broken apart in a single day.

“Thank you – please sit.

“Opioid addiction is a national crisis, and no community is immune. There are 350 people in this auditorium, and I would bet that at least some of you have experienced the tragedy of this crisis in your own families. And unless we act now, the toll will grow heavier and heavier.

“More families and communities will be torn apart. More people will be released from hospitals after overdoses without receiving the medical treatment they need. More people will languish in prisons without receiving the medical treatment they need. More people will die because medications that help cure addiction are stigmatized – and ones that can help people survive an overdose are in short supply. And more patients will become addicted to prescription opioids, when there are other, safer options available.

“Our leaders in Washington have failed to meet the challenge with the urgency and bold solutions that are required. And we can’t wait another day. We have to act now.

“This is a problem that touches every part of our society. So I believe – and I’m sure you agree – that every part of society must be part of the solution. Doctors. Teachers. Researchers Fellows. Police officers. Parents. It will take all of them and, especially, all of you – leaders in the field of public health.

“I first became passionate about public health when I was serving on the board of Johns Hopkins, more than 25 years ago. Al Sommer was dean of the public health school then, and he’s the one who really sparked my curiosity. The more I learned about the work going on there, the more I realized what an opportunity public health offered to save and improve lives.

“I’m glad to say that Al serves on the board of our foundation now, and he’s here today, along with two other board members who make great contributions to our foundation: Tenley Albright and Walter Isaacson. Tenley, Walter, Al: Thank you for your commitment to these issues.

“One of the ways that our foundation considers what issues to take on is by looking at the leading causes of death – and analyzing where we can make the biggest difference. That’s why we’ve decided to lead the charge in tackling tobacco use, road safety, obesity, and other important challenges – and it’s why today, we are launching a major new effort to stop the opioid epidemic in America.

“The CDC’s report on life expectancy this week underscores just how important this work is. Hard as it is to believe, in the United States of America, life expectancy has actually declined over the past three years. That hasn’t happened since World War I! And we can’t let it continue.

“As we all know, opioids are a big part of the problem. Last year, fatal drug overdoses rose by ten percent – and opioids are the main driver of that increase. That’s a big reason why we’ve convened this first-ever conference, and brought together so many leaders in the field.

“We know that smart policies improve and lengthen lives. In New York City, we were able to extend life expectancy by more than three years over my 12 years in office. So we know progress is possible.

“Sometimes the interventions are controversial at first – our smoking ban certainly was. But once people see the benefits, they embrace it. That’s been true for so many public health policies – and now we have to take the same bold approach to fighting opioid addiction.

“The good news is: We are starting to see some progress – thanks to great work being done by people in this room. Just yesterday, a federal court in Massachusetts ordered a local jail to provide methadone to help an inmate kick addiction – a ruling that could set a national precedent. But we need to do more, and act faster.

“And that’s why today I’m glad to say that our foundation is launching a new effort to support the most promising work being done by state and local leaders to save lives – and help it spread around the country.

“In total, we are committing $50 million to this effort.

“We’ll start in one of the states that has been hardest hit by the epidemic: Pennsylvania. The state’s Governor, Tom Wolf, has been a real leader on this issue. He’s done a lot to bring people together and expand access to life-saving treatment. We’ll work together to launch a comprehensive effort to tackle opioids from every angle. This will be a statewide, all-hands-on-deck effort to fight the opioid crisis on a scale that has never been attempted before.

“We’ll work to reduce over-prescription – and improve access to treatment in jails, prisons, and hospitals. We’ll improve access to drugs that can save lives in case of overdose. We’ll help all the groups on the frontlines of this epidemic collect and share data. And we will also work to identify innovative new ways to stop addiction and overdoses.

“That will create a blueprint that can spread from state to state – and start a wave of change that can reach every corner of our nation. And to speed progress in that direction, we’ll also begin work in up to nine other states with high rates of opioid abuse.

“We are assembling a group of leaders in this field, including from Johns Hopkins, CDC, The Pew Charitable Trusts, and Vital Strategies, which is a close partner for our foundation in a number of areas. Together, we will encourage Washington to act more boldly, by showing that progress is possible. Until the federal government begins tackling this issue with the urgency it requires, we will support states with evidence they need to take bold and decisive action on their own.

“I am hopeful about what we can achieve working together. I’m hopeful because of people like: Amanda Latimore, a scientist and opioid crisis specialist; Peter Bruun, a parent whose child was addicted; Kathy Stone, a Certified High-Performance coach; Anika Alvanzo, a doctor and professor at Johns Hopkins; Brandon Del Pozo, the police chief of Burlington, Vermont; Jody Rich, who directs the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights in Rhode Island; Sarah Danforth, a Harm Reduction Services Coordinator; Michael Fingerhood, an addiction medicine doctor; Susan Sherman, a professor and researcher on opioids; and Nicole Alexander-Scott, the Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health.

“I’m hopeful because so many people, from so many walks of life, are committed to fighting this epidemic. Their commitment is unwavering. To them, it’s very personal. Thank you to this amazing group.

“I know we can turn the tide on this epidemic. And if we do, we can begin reversing the decline in life expectancy that has been happening across the country – thanks largely to opioid overdoses.

“Here are some goals that I think we should all want to see reached in the next five years: All doctors will follow CDC guidelines on when to prescribe opioids. All insurers will provide coverage for alternatives – like physical therapy. All Americans struggling with opioid addiction will have access to life-saving treatment and medications wherever they seek care. That includes everyone with an opioid addiction who is serving time in prison, and repaying their debt to society. And all of us will work to fight stigma around addiction – which prevents people from getting the help they need.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us – so let’s get to it.

“Thank you all for being a part of this work – and for all you do to help people live longer and better lives. It really is inspiring to see. All the best for a productive day.”

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