More than 27 million people in the US reported using illegal drugs or abusing prescription drugs in 2015 and more than 66 million people reported binge drinking in the past month.
“Substance abuse disorders affect nearly everyone in America, whether directly or indirectly,” Murthy said on a call Thursday.
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It’s estimated that alcohol misuse cost the US $249 billion a year, with illicit drug use and abuse running another $193 billion each year. Despite that toll, substance abuse disorders haven’t been given the same weight as other widespread health issues.
The surgeon general said he’d also like to see a culture shift in how the public views addiction.
“It is not a moral failing, or evidence of a character flaw, but a chronic disease of the brain that deserves our compassion and care,” Murthy said. The report said doctors can take the lead by making clear this is a problem to fight with medicine and counseling, not imprisonment.
Other highlights from the report:
- Murthy’s report says substance abuse must be identified in general health settings, including primary, psychiatry, and emergency care. Effective screening will help create individual treatment plans.
- The report attacks the misconception that medication “substitutes one addiction for another.” That is unscientific bunk. Murthy noted that increasing access to medicine — methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone — is crucial to fighting the opioid crisis.
- Substance abuse treatment is not just the work of individual specialists. It should be treated by a mix of caregivers — social workers, recovery specialists, nutritionists — just like diabetes or cancer.
Those messages are resonating with medical professionals and advocates on the ground.
“The surgeon general is taking unprecedented action this week on what has become a leading cause of death for young people in America,” said Greg Williams, cofounder of Facing Addiction. “Turning the tide on the addiction crisis is going to require new bold action from all sectors.”