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Deborah Hersman, former chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board. / H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY

In Deborah Hersman's 10 years at the National Transportation Safety Board, she was often a reassuring presence on the scene of deadly transportation disasters. She was present at more than 25 safety board investigations, including the crash in July 6, 2013, of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 on final approach to the San Francisco airport, which resulted in three deaths and 181 injuries.

Hersman, 44, was able to impact the lives of many with the recommendations she and her colleagues made.

In her new job as president and CEO of the Itasca, Ill.-based National Safety Council, Hersman expects to touch many more lives. In fact, she hopes she and her colleagues at the 101-year-old non-profit group chartered by Congress will be able to save far more lives.

The safety council focuses on reducing the number of people who die unintentionally from severe injuries, the fifth-leading cause of death in the USA, behind heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases and stroke.

This week, in her first interview since taking the reins of the NSC on May 5, Hersman discussed her priorities for the group.

Near the top of the agenda: reducing the 38,000 Americans who die every year from accidental drug overdoses, including 16,000 who die from prescription painkillers. "This is an issue that we really want to bring to the forefront," Hersman says. "I think most people think drug addiction and drug deaths are about illegal drugs. We're killing more people in prescription situations than with cocaine and heroin combined."

She says the safety council will attack the problem with a four-pronged approach, which includes:

â?˘Coordinated state action with prescription drug monitoring programs "to make sure people aren't receiving multiple prescriptions from multiple pharmacies," Hersman says. "Many states already have protections in place. We need to make sure it's done in real-time."

â?˘Education of doctors. "We have to have good guidelines for physicians and others that help them understand how to monitor for abuse and dependency," she says. "We have to make sure that if a patient needs five pills, they're not getting 50."

â?˘Enhanced enforcement that cracks down on "pill mills" and on doctor- and pharmacy-shopping. She cites Ohio as a success story: After 13 illegal pill mills were busted in Ohio, the state passed a law in 2011 that authorized the state medical board to set rules on when a doctor is required to check the state prescription reporting database. The law also mandated the licensing of pain management clinics and sharply restricted the in-office dispensation of controlled substances. That led to a 20% drop in prescriptions in one county, she says.

â?˘Treatment of overdoses. This includes allowing access to Naloxone, used to combat opioid overdoses, for people likely to be first on the scene of an accidental overdose, including illicit drug users and family members , police and first responders. The plan includes immunity or mitigation from prosecution for third parties who report overdoses.

"There's nothing I'm more passionate about than saving lives," Hersman says.

President George W. Bush appointed Hersman in 2004 to the NTSB, an independent federal agency that investigates crashes and transportation safety issues and makes recommendations to other government agencies, Congress and the states. She was reappointed to two additional five-year terms by President Obama, who appointed her to two-year terms as chairman in 2009, 2011 and 2013.

During her tenure, she expanded the board's mission to such transportation risks as motorcycle safety and drunken driving. The board recommended that all states impose mandatory helmet laws for all motorcyclists, lower the drunken driving blood-alcohol content standard from .08 to .05 and require ignition interlocks for anyone convicted of drunken driving. The reception from the states has been mixed: Five states have imposed ignition interlocks for all convicted drivers since the recommendation; none has enacted universal motorcycle helmet laws or lowered the BAC standard.

Road safety will remain a priority for Hersman: The safety council's other major focus areas include distracted driving and teen driving safety, along with workplace safety and engaging communities in injury prevention.

Hersman will have a smaller staff at the safety council than at the NTSB, about 275 vs. 400. She points out that the NSC has chapters around the nation and has thousands of volunteers.

"I felt like I had the opportunity of a lifetime working at NTSB," she says. "I see working at the National Safety Council as very similar work. But I have a broader reach and a wider mission. We have a really tremendous opportunity to save lives at the National Safety Council."



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Former NTSB boss Hersman takes reins of safety council

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