Lab Matters Spring 2020 - Page 12

PARTNER PROFILE minutes with Rudolph Johnson Dr. Johnson is the chief of the Emergency Response Branch (ERB) in the Division of Laboratory Sciences at the National Center for Environmental Health in the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He is a technical leader for the Laboratory Response Network for Chemical Threats (LRN-C), supporting the LRN-C’s needs by serving as a reference lab for the network and partnering with participants to ensure their readiness to respond to public health emergencies. Recently, under Johnson’s leadership, ERB has been supporting the national outbreak of e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury (EVALI) as the receiving and distribution laboratory for clinical samples and vaping products. In addition, Johnson has recently served as the acting director of the Division of Emergency Operations for CDC’s Center for Preparedness and Response. In this role he was responsible for the strategic senior leadership and management of the Division’s daily operations. Johnson earned his BS in Chemistry from Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia, and a PhD in Analytical Chemistry from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. What drew you to public health? What I really like is helping people so they can live their lives. And that’s why I like public health—it’s very much behind the scenes but provides help to people every day. Prior to coming to CDC and public health, I worked for BASF Corporation, which is famous for its motto of “We don’t make things, we make things better.” And public health is a lot like that—you take people’s lives as they already are, and you try to help in any way you can without really interfering. Every day that public health moves forward successfully in a very positive way is a day you’ve done your job correctly. How important is good customer service to a public health career? I think it’s a critical requirement both for your personal satisfaction and making sure everything works correctly. Public health is about outreach and making sure that people understand not only how you can help them, but also what you need from them. The “customers” can range from the public health care system to a state level laboratory to non-government organizations. With all these different partners, there are quite a few opportunities for collaboration. So, collaboration in my mind, is public health’s form of customer service. You’re finding someone who’s trying to accomplish their mission and, by working together, you can have an even greater impact. How has the opioid epidemic—declared a continuing public health emergency for 2020—changed the way that public health laboratories tests for chemical threats? Opioids are a very challenging part of public health in that they are necessary but present a public health risk. Public health needs to recognize the benefits of opioids and also develop the safeguards against their misuse. And that requires working together with federal and state law enforcement to ensure that laboratories have the proper information on new, illicit substances. When the epidemic began, there were many different designer opioids. And one of the issues that we ran into was the laws were adjusting to make new forms of opioids illegal so people wouldn’t misuse them. We worked together with policymakers to review the laws to ensure they were chemically accurate. This way, misuse would be minimized but people who used the drugs medicinally could continue to access them. 10 LAB MATTERS Spring 2020 PublicHealthLabs @APHL APHL.org