By Sarah Kuper
The UAB School of Public Health awarded former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance the Lou Wooster Public Health Hero award for her work fighting opioid trafficking and addiction in northern Alabama.
Vance until her retirement last month was the U.S. attorney for the northern district of Alabama, which includes Birmingham.
The annual award is given by the school’s advisory board to a person, organization or group that is an unconventional health hero.
Dean of the public health school Max Michael III said Vance’s leadership addressing the opioid epidemic made her a standout candidate for the honor.
“Vance joins uncommon public health heroes selected because their work falls outside the traditional boundaries of public health yet has a great impact on the public’s health,” Michael said.
According to the school, Vance took on the opioid abuse problem long before it gained national attention.
Vance was nominated as U.S. attorney by former President Obama in 2009. In 2014, she convened the first ever “Pills to Needles Summit” in conjunction with the Jefferson County Department of Health and the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s School of Public Health.
The summit brought together teachers, doctors, prevention experts, law enforcement, government officials and concerned parents for a day of education about the opioid problem. Momentum from the summit led to the establishment of the Pills to Needles Initiative, an ongoing resource to combat the heroin epidemic.
Vance has helped develop federal, state and local task forces to deal with heroin traffickers, and her office has arrested and charged dozens of dealers.
In addition to her work surrounding opioid addiction and trafficking, Vance focused on civil rights cases.
The award is named in honor of Louise Wooster, the 19th century Birmingham madam who risked her life during the 1873 cholera epidemic by staying in the city to care for the sick and dying.