COLUMBIA - The University of Missouri hosted former U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams Monday afternoon to address health inequities as a social justice issue around Black health and wellness.

In the final day of MU's Black History Month celebrations, Adams expressed his concern of health information becoming politicized. Adams said areas such as maternal mortality, opioid addiction and COVID-19 have affected at-risk communities. 

"It's really shocking that Black women, even when you normalize for income, and education and geography, still are about twice as likely to die giving birth as a white woman," Adams said. 

About a third of these deaths occur prenatally, Adams said. He stressed that care for Black women in hospitals needs to improve in order to identify risk factors, including hemorrhage, uncontrolled blood pressure and strokes before giving birth. He suggested Medicaid to extend coverage to at least a year, post-birth in order to see rates decrease. 

Mental health among these communities is an ongoing concern as well. During the pandemic, admissions for suicidality rose among the younger demographic, he said.

"We saw opioid overdose deaths go up by 30% last year, and by 40%, in Black and brown communities," Adams said. 

However, this was a problem dealt with before the pandemic. Opioids specifically caused a death every 11 minutes in the United States. Last fall, the city of Columbia had to call an emergency meeting to address this issue.

The main solution for all the overlying issues is trust, Adams said. In order to evoke this feeling, he wants a better job to be done when reaching out to at-risk communities about health. The Tuskegee Experiment in 1932 was explained as a cause for mistrust, when Black men were denied treatment for syphilis.

"And so you can't expect communities that have had something like that happen over 40 years, to within a year and a half, suddenly become trusting of the health system. We need to understand that we need to acknowledge that," Adams said. 

That and other underlying issues have been the root for vaccine hesitancy and mistrust in the health care system. 

Adams is currently part of the Bipartisan Policy Center, which strives to fight for issues that matter to American families. Recently, the center launched task forces to reduce opioid deaths and other aforementioned issues following the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"While the month of February is officially designated to recognize Black history, it is important and essential to remember that Black history is a 12-month thing, not just a 28-day event," Dr. David Mitchell, a law professor and organizer of the MU's Black History Month celebration, said. 

Health inequities as a social justice issue will continue to be examined, as well as other issues affecting at-risk communities around the country. 

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KOMU 8 Reporter

Lucy is a reporter, anchor and producer with KOMU. You can reach her on twitter at @lucycaile and on Instagram at

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