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U.S. Surgeon General Believes the Physical Therapy Profession is a Key Player in the Fight against Opioid Misuse

Dr. Ed Enriquez, PT, DPT, COMPT, CSCT, DN Cert., Dip. Osteopractor, CSMT, FAAOMT.

The physical therapy profession has an important role to play in improving public health on multiple fronts and you won’t get any arguments from U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, MD, MPH. In fact, you might get the rhetorical equivalent of a high-five. According with Surgeon General Physical therapy is “well-positioned to change the culture around pain management” in the United States and that “we know that physical therapy is going to be a part of” the evolution toward value-based care. The remarks were delivered as part of the APTA Component Leadership Meeting, an event that preceded the 2019 APTA Combined Sections meeting being held in Washington, DC, January 23-26.
Adams focused on the opioid crisis and the physical therapy profession’s role in addressing it, with an emphasis on the importance of involving and educating communities on nonopioid alternatives to pain management, and compassionate care and treatment of individuals with addictions. It’s a concept Adams is extending to public health in general through what he calls “better health through better partnerships.” Adam said, “We can’t operate in silos” to address public health challenges such as the opioid crisis. “We need partnerships and we need collaborations. We need to bring people and organizations together that we may never worked with, or never thought before.”
Adams acknowledged that the country’s health care system contributed to the rise of opioids and in many ways was not prepared for the crisis it now faces. In fact, he explained, the issue wasn’t on the radar of most public health experts—but attitudes quickly changed. Paraphrasing boxer Mike Tyson, Adams told the audience that “Everyone’s got a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
“The opioid crisis is our punch in the mouth,” he said.
Adams has a firsthand understanding of the devastating consequences of addiction. He told the audience that his brother is currently in prison, serving out a sentence for theft committed to support his opioid addiction.
“Addiction can happen to anyone,” he said. “Even the brother of the United States Surgeon General.”
He also believes the physical therapy profession is a leader that “should be at the table” for a wide range of health policy discussions—particularly when those discussions center on the evolution away from fee-for-service models and toward value-based care. The reason, he said, is simple: “We know that physical therapy is going to be a part of every one of those value-based practices.”
The bottom line for health care should be “stop paying for things that don’t work and start paying for things that do work,” including physical therapy, Adams added.

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