Alaska’s former chief medical officer, Dr Jay Butler has accepted a job with the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta as the head of the office of infectious disease. He says in Alaska, as in other places in the U.S., the opioid crisis was the defining challenge of the past decade as the largest public health concern since HIV emerged in the 1980s. Butler says public health workers hadn’t focused on it as much as addiction specialists at the beginning of the problem.
“But when the opioid crisis developed and people were dying, then it kind of grabbed everybody and realized, no this is problem that requires not just access to treatment but also population based approaches,” Butler said.
Listen to the full interview with Dr. Jay Butler, former state Chief Medical Officer and former host of Alaska Public Media’s Line One: Your Health Connection.
He says although his mandate at CDC is broad for disease control, covering nearly all except malaria, there are priority areas. One is addressing HIV transmission.
“And the goal has been stated that we can reduce the number of new cases of HIV by 50% within the next five years and by 90% over the next 10 years,” Butler said. “And the tools are there, this can be done, if we have the political will to do it.”
Butler says tuberculosis continues to be a concern in Alaska as does a warming climate’s effects on infectious disease.
“And the transmission of microorganisms that are acquired either from insect vectors or from animals, that’s going to shift as the climate changes, but also climate change is stressful so it’s important to also recognize that there are behavioral health issues that need to be addressed as well,” Butler said.
Dr Butler says Alaskans should take satisfaction from the reduction in opioid deaths in 2018, but he says a lot of work remains.
“And still too many people are dying of drug overdoses, we have the ongoing challenges of alcohol misuse and we have emerging problems with methamphetemine coming back.”
Dr Jay Butler started his new position with the CDC earlier this month.