Jerome Adams is just a few steps away from becoming the top public health official in the nation.
The majority of Adams’ testimony in front of the Senate Confirmation Panel this week focused on Indiana’s response to Scott County’s HIV crisis, the largest injection-drug fueled HIV outbreak in U.S. history.
A recurring theme in Adams’ testimony to the Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee was the importance of scientifically-grounded evidence over political positions. When asked if he would put scientific evidence first, even at the risk of becoming politically unpopular, Adams answered with an emphatic “yes.”
The Maryland native told the committee that as a prominent advocate for establishing syringe exchange programs in Indiana, he had significant experience with political blowback.
Adams said the biggest lesson he learned during the Scott County crisis was that science wasn’t enough to sway public opinion on certain issues, such as syringe-exchange programs
“Science and the evidence is necessary,” he said, “but it’s not always sufficient to motivate change. So one of the things that was really successful for both I and Governor Pence was to go down to the community.”
Adams compared the initial resistance to syringe exchanges to another harm-reduction initiative: supervised injection sites for drug users, in which people can shoot up under medical supervision.
Adams testified he would be open to reviewing any evidence of their effectiveness at curbing disease and overdoses.
One Senator, Democrat Chris Murphy of Massachusetts, grilled Adams on his views of gun violence as a public safety issue. Adams, a gun owner, offered a carefully-worded response in which he said education was key.
“I think what we have to do is separate the tool from the perpetrator. Cars are not a public health problem, car accidents are a public health problem,” he said.
Adams says as a doctor working in a trauma center, he witnesses the effects of gun violence firsthand. He added suicides, and not only homicides, are also a gun-related issue.
Sen. Murphy disagreed with Adams, saying proximity to guns is related to propensity to commit a crime.
Former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy was dismissed by the Trump Administration earlier this year. Critics speculated it was because his views on gun control conflicted with a pro-gun rights president.
The Fishers anesthesiologist received commendations from several senators during the hearing—as well as an unexpected hug from his daughter during his opening statement.
The Senate panel could vote on a confirmation as soon as Wednesday.
This story was produced by Side Effects Public Media, a reporting collaborative focused on public health.