Surgeon General Addresses Overdose Epidemic

Surgeon general issues first-ever report devoted to substance abuse and addiction.

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Drug overdose deaths in the US hit an all-time high of 78 people a day in 2014. That's not a good thing, and the surgeon general is calling for action.

The report, "Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health," was issued by Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, MBA, an internist who became the 19th US Surgeon General of in Dec. 2014.

“At a time when we are resource-constrained already, we cannot afford, for humanitarian reasons or financial reasons, to not address addiction in America,” Dr. Murthy said in an interview with USA Today.

The surgeon general's report noted that investments in treating substance use disorders have a big payoff, with a savings of $4 in health care costs and $7 in criminal justice costs for each $1 invested in substance use treatment.

Nearly 21 million Americans have a substance abuse addiction, according to the report--more than all the people in America who have any kind of cancer. Yet only one in 10 of those people receive treatment. Lack of screening, high costs and a fragmented health care system are some of the factors affecting treatment problems.

The Affordable Care Act and the separate Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 increased access to treatment for addiction, however, many of those who are addicted are uninsured.

Noting that many of those who are addicted are young or start young, Dr. Murthy urged parents to start talking about addiction early. He also recommended that schools implement prevention programs and that doctors be trained to screen, diagnose and treat substance abuse disorders.

Policymakers also have a role to play in assuring resources are available for prevention and treatment programs.

“We have to recognize (addiction) isn't evidence of a character flaw or a moral failing,” Dr. Murthy said. “It’s a chronic disease of the brain that deserves the same compassion that any other chronic illness does, like diabetes or heart disease. It’s a disease that doesn’t discriminate, and it’s one that’s taking an extraordinary toll on our communities across the country.”

The report is available in full at SurgeonGeneral.gov.

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