Jan Rader, the fire chief of Huntington, West Virginia, says the medical community “still doesn’t understand the magnitude” of the opioid epidemic.
“The biggest issue I see is stigma with substance use disorders,” Rader said during the TIME 100 Gala on Tuesday. “People who are suffering are very fragile. What we say or do can make or break them. The medical community still doesn’t understand the magnitude [of the epidemic]. It’s amazing what a kind word can do. There’s so much frustration among the medical community and first responders because we want to fix things. It’s impacting the responders too, and they need attention.”
Rader was named one of the 2018 TIME 100 for her work fighting the opioid crisis.
“I think some communities are moving in the right direction,” she continued. “You need to step out of your comfort zone and you need legislatures like we have [in Huntington] supporting you. We need to set aside egos, roll up our sleeves and do what’s right.”
“[Rader] has saved countless lives and has been unrelenting in her commitment to help people struggling with substance-use disorders return to lead productive lives,” West Virginia senator Joe Manchin wrote in a tribute to Rader for the 2018 TIME 100.
West Virginia leads the country in opioid overdose deaths. Huntington has been hit particularly hard, with emergency care providers sometimes responding to multiple overdose cases within a few hours. In the United States, 115 Americans die every day on average from opioid overdoses.