CDC Director: I Almost Lost My Son To Fentanyl

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CDC Director: I Almost Lost My Son To Fentanyl

By Kelly Burch 07/19/18

"It's important for society to embrace and support families who are fighting to win the battle of addiction—because stigma is the enemy of public health."

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The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told a private audience last week that the opioid crisis hits close to home for him because his son nearly died after taking cocaine contaminated with fentanyl.

“For me, it's personal. I almost lost one of my children from it," Dr. Robert Redfield Jr. told the annual conference of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, according to CBS News and the Associated Press.

The AP saw a video of Redfield’s speech, which was given on Thursday in New Orleans. According to AP researchers, Redfield’s 37-year-old son was charged with possession in 2016, but the outcome of the case was not public record.

Redfield declined to discuss the incident more in depth, but he did release the following statement: "It's important for society to embrace and support families who are fighting to win the battle of addiction—because stigma is the enemy of public health.”

During the speech, Redfield was outlining his priorities for the CDC. He said that since becoming director in March, the opioid crisis has been a top priority because it is "the public health crisis of our time.”

Dr. Umair Shah, the head of Houston's county health department, said that Redfield’s admission was a powerful statement. "It was definitely an intimate moment that grabbed the audience of public health professionals," said Shah, who just finished a term as president of the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

“It was a close-to-home story, and he spoke quite personally,” Shah told The Washington Post. Shah said that it’s relatively uncommon for healthcare providers to talk about their own personal experience with public health issues, but that doing so can be a powerful way to connect with patients.

“We don’t want to be seen as too vulnerable or too unprofessional,” Shah said. “And here he is sharing such an intimate story.”

Redfield’s background is in infectious disease and most of his professional work has been done around HIV, a condition that was stigmatized in much the same way that addiction is today.

Once isolated to the heroin supply, fentanyl is increasingly being used to cut other drugs, including cocaine. In addition, fentanyl is increasingly being abused on its own, rather than being mixed with other drugs. In 2016, the drug was found to be present in 46% of opioid-related overdose deaths.

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.

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