Surgeon General Releases First-Ever Report on Drugs, Addiction

By Kelly Burch 11/18/16

The report addresses addiction myths, stigma, AA and the benefits of medication-assisted treatment and harm reduction.

Surgeon General Releases First-Ever Report on Drugs, Addiction
Dr. Vivek Murthy

An American dies every 19 minutes from a heroin or opioid overdose. According to the first-ever U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health, released yesterday, drug abuse and addiction has cost the United States $442 billion each year. 

On the day the report was released, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy and Facing Addiction, a national non-profit, hosted an event in Los Angeles with leaders from the addiction and recovery communities. There, Murthy said that the report, entitled “Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health,” should signal a shift in how Americans approach addiction.

“Science tells us clearly that addiction is a disease of the brain,” said Murthy at the event.

The 400-plus page report thoughtfully addresses the neurobiology of addiction, addiction myths, AA and its role in the recovery process, marijuana legalization, and healthcare policy. 

In addition to highlighting the science of addiction, the report looked at the economic reasons to support recovery programs. According to the report, each dollar invested in treatment saves $4 in healthcare costs and $7 in criminal justice costs.

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

The report also put a spotlight on another major issue: stigma. "We also need a cultural shift in how we think about addiction," wrote Murthy in the report. "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."

Murthy told USA Today, "It’s a chronic disease of the brain that deserves the same compassion that any other chronic illness does, like diabetes or heart disease.”

The report highlighted the distressing numbers that illustrate the depth of the addiction crisis in America: 1 in 7 Americans will face a substance use disorder, but only 10% of those will get treatment.

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is touted as an effective treatment option in the report. The MAT section features a comprehensive table which showcases the dosage form, use, DEA Schedule, and application of the six FDA-approved pharmacotherapies that treat alcohol and opioid use disorders (naltrexone, buprenorphine hydrochloride, buprenorphine naloxone, disulfiram, acamprosate, and methadone).

The report urges changes in the way that the country approaches addiction and therefore treatment. 

Murthy and others in government hope it will make a significant impact on health, just like the 1964 Surgeon General’s report on smoking, which it was modeled on. 

Murthy announced the report last year, and publishing it fulfills a promise he made to his fellow healthcare workers in Massachusetts when he became Surgeon General two years ago. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.