Scientists Warned in 2006 That Opioid Crisis Was Unfolding

Surgeon general agreed to issue call to action, but it never came to be
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 21, 2019 2:15 PM CDT
Scientists Warned in 2006 That Opioid Crisis Was Unfolding
   (Getty Images)

In 2006 the surgeon general was just about to warn the nation of an impending health threat—but that warning didn't materialize. Politico reports that in a March 15, 2006, memo to then-Surgeon General Richard Carmona, the heads of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institutes of Health put forth data that they saw as evidence of an unfolding opioid crisis. Per the memo, which Politico obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, they thought "efforts to heighten awareness of this problem should be a top public health priority." Carmona reportedly said he would issue an official call to action, the most urgent step he could take. That step ultimately wasn't taken.

Work began on the public warning, Carmona tells Politico, and a series of meetings were held. But then Carmona's term ended, an acting surgeon general took over, and the call to action never came to be. "The crisis was in its infancy. It wasn't like we dropped the ball," Carmona says. He adds that while the memo flagged an increase in addiction, especially among teens, the data was nowhere near as detailed as what we have on the subject now. And there were competing priorities, he says: meth, obesity, "global health, national preparedness after September 11th, bioterrorism." As for whether it would have done any good had it happened, "I don't have a crystal ball," says Camona. "But I'd like to think all surgeon general communications make a difference." (Read the full piece here.)

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