A photo of Dr. Murthy

The Office of the Surgeon General of the United Stated recently released a landmark report on the country’s addiction epidemic, “Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health.”

The Report aims to erase stigma and define effective actions that all facets of society can take to prevent and treat substance use disorder.

The findings are expansive, significant and full of hope for all those affected by this major public health challenge, identifying substance use disorder as “a priority for our nation to address.”

Perhaps the most important finding of the Report identifies addiction as “a chronic neurological disorder” that must be recognized and included in the healthcare system, requiring clinical treatment and ongoing supportive care.

Another key piece of the Report provides considerable evidence showing that prevention, treatment, and recovery policies and programs really do work. It confirms that high quality, accessible treatment programs, such as those provided by Valley Hope, can significantly reduce the effects of SUD on workplaces, the health care system, families and communities.

The Report makes a substantial effort to shift misperceptions about addiction, identifying stigma as a tragic barrier that prevents too many from seeking and receiving the care they need for a chronic neurological disorder. In fact, the Report pointedly establishes that addiction is not a moral failing or character flaw, rather “it is a chronic illness that we must approach with the same skill and compassion that we approach heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.”

“We now know that there is a neurobiological basis for substance use disorders with potential for both recovery and recurrence.”

In fact, the Report repeatedly stresses that removing stigma and increasing awareness about addiction as a treatable chronic illness is essential to reducing the health epidemic.

A primary, essential solution the Report recommends is an urgent and comprehensive effort within the healthcare system to integrate screenings for substance use disorder as part of routine medical checkups with primary care physicians (PCPs). With education and resources readily available, the PCP can then refer patients into treatment that must be, according to the Surgeon General, “with skill, with compassion and with urgency.”

Important statistics were compiled through extensive research that establishes addiction as a public health crisis in need of immediate, concentrated awareness, understanding and action:

  • Many more people now die from alcohol and drug overdoses each year than are killed in automobile accidents, a stunning revelation. In fact, according to the National Safety Council, there were 38,300 traffic related deaths in 2015, versus a staggering 55,403 deaths from drug overdose (National Institute on Drug Abuse).
  • Over 20 million people have substance use disorders, and 12.5 million Americans reported misusing prescription pain relievers in the past year.
  • 78 people die every day in the United States from an opioid overdose, and those numbers have nearly quadrupled since 1999.
  • Despite the fact that we have treatments we know are effective, only one in five people who currently need treatment for opioid use disorders is actually receiving it.
  • In 2015, over 27 million people in the United States reported current use of illicit drugs or misuse of prescription drugs, and over 66 million people (nearly a quarter of the adult and adolescent population) reported binge drinking in the past month.
  • Roughly one in seven people in the United States (14.6 percent of the population) are expected to develop a substance use disorder at some point in their lives.
  • In 2015, substance use disorders affected 20.8 million Americans—almost 8 percent of the adolescent and adult population. This is expected to increase in 2016.
  • The number of people with SUD is similar to the number of people who suffer from diabetes, and more than 1.5 times the annual prevalence of all cancers combined (14 million).
  • Shockingly, only about 10 percent of people with a substance use disorder receive any type of specialty treatment. These numbers directly reflect the impact of societal stigma and a counterproductive, ineffective reliance on
    the criminal justice system to eradicate addiction, rather than medical intervention.

However, the Report also provides undeniable hope with this finding:

More than 25 million individuals with a previous substance use disorder are in remission and living healthy, productive lives.

While providing statistical data on the epidemic status of SUD and contributing factors, the Report also contains recommendations for parents, families, educators, health care professionals, public policy makers, researchers, and all community members, all designed to ultimately provide accessible, effective prevention, treatment and ongoing recovery services.

The addiction problem touches everyone and we all must be a part of the solution. The Report is an excellent step with directions for us on how to work together in eradicating addiction.

Watch for upcoming blog posts for a deeper dive into various sections of The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health, including a vision for the future, five general messages, their implications for policy and practice, and recommendations for specific stakeholder groups.

Learn more: addiction.surgeongeneral.gov.