After Surgeon General’s Report, A Move Toward Better Treatment Options

By The Fix staff 02/27/17

Each year 23.4 million people need help for drug or alcohol problems, but only 10 percent will receive any type of treatment.

A group of people sitting in chairs, in therapy

Last year was another record-breaking year for drug overdose deaths, with opioid addiction claiming lives around the nation at an alarming rate. At the same time, 2016 also represented a shift in the conversation around drug addiction, with a heavy focus on the fact that recovery is possible.

In November, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy released the first ever Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health. The report outlined the consequences of untreated addiction but also emphasized that recovery is possible when quality treatment is available.

“For far too long, too many in our country have viewed addiction as a moral failing. This unfortunate stigma has created an added burden of shame that has made people with substance use disorders less likely to come forward and seek help,” Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said in an executive summary of the report. “We must help everyone see that addiction is not a character flaw – it is a chronic illness that we must approach with the same skill and compassion with which we approach heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.”

That means approaching drug recovery with a systematic treatment plan, and making sure that everyone struggling with opioid addiction has access to high-quality heroin treatment and rehabilitation programs.

The report “describes the considerable evidence showing that prevention, treatment, and recovery policies and programs really do work,” said Sylvia Mathews Burwell, Secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services. “Throughout, the Report provides examples of how individuals, organizations, and communities can partner to lessen and eliminate substance misuse. These efforts have to start now.”

However, in order to curb the opioid epidemic, more people need access to high quality treatment programs. Each year 23.4 million people need help for drug or alcohol problems, but only 10 percent will receive any type of treatment, according to the report.

In the months since the report was released there has been progress across the country in improving access to treatment. Last week, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie moved to double the number of beds available for drug treatment in his state. The move will mark a significant improvement in access to treatment in the tristate area, where even people with insurance often face long waits for recovery beds.

“I receive calls, very often, from individuals and families who, although they have commercial insurance, they have no place to go. There are long waits for beds and services,” Debra Wentz, president and CEO of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies told NJTV News.

Having a variety of treatment options, from wilderness recovery programs to treatment designed for professionals, is essential to helping more people get into long-term recovery.

Science is also starting to understand the element of successful recovery. A recent Yale study found that giving opioid addicts medication in the emergency room to reduce cravings set them up for better chances of long-term recovery.

“The ED visit is an ideal opportunity to identify patients with opioid use disorder and initiate treatment and direct referral, similar to best practices for other diseases, such as high blood pressure and diabetes,” said Gail D’Onofrio, head of emergency medicine at Yale, who authored the study.

With better treatment options, more opioid addicts will thrive in recovery rather than have lives that end too soon.

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