Surgeon General Sends Letter Addressing Opioid Crisis To All US Physicians

By John Lavitt 08/29/16

Dr. Vivek Murthy's letter offers doctors strategies to address the crisis and asks that they "treat addiction as a chronic illness, not a moral failing."

Surgeon General Sends Letter Addressing Opioid Crisis To All US Physicians
Dr. Vivek Murthy Photo via YouTube

With opioid overdoses rising nationwide—spurred by prescription painkiller and heroin abuse—U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has taken unprecedented action. Dr. Murthy mailed letters to 2.3 million prescribers nationwide, calling on physicians to harness their "unique power to help end this epidemic." According to the CDC, 78 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. 

“I think this is one of our greatest public health threats and it’s one that we have to respond to with speed and with urgency," Murthy told CBS last week. "All of us have had a role to play.” Although physicians are only part of the problem, the Surgeon General believes they can help turn the tide.

In his letter to the physicians, Murthy acknowledged that aggressive marketing of strong prescription painkillers as well as the lack of funding given to treatment options are significant hurdles to overcome.

In the details of the letter, Murthy highlights three steps that can be taken by physicians to address the crisis:

“Together, we will build a national movement of clinicians to do three things: First, we will educate ourselves to treat pain safely and effectively. A good place to start is the TurnTheTideRx pocket guide with the CDC Opioid Prescribing Guideline. Second, we will screen our patients for opioid use disorder and provide or connect them with evidence-based treatment. Third, we can shape how the rest of the country sees addiction by talking about and treating it as a chronic illness, not a moral failing … Years from now, I want us to look back and know that, in the face of a crisis that threatened our nation, it was our profession that stepped up and led the way.”

Although the above steps are voluntary, America's top doctor has faith that physicians will want to do their part. Upon seeing the devastation of the epidemic firsthand, he believes that the medical establishment is ready to take action. 

“[C]linicians, doctors, nurses, dentists all came to their profession almost exclusively with the sense of idealism, with the same sense of wanting to improve the lives of other people and reduce suffering," he told CBS. "As I’ve traveled the country ... I found clinicians who are eager to help and we want them to be a part of the solution.”

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.