The U.S. Surgeon General, Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy, recently released a groundbreaking report, Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health. This report identifies drug and alcohol addiction as a significant public health concern in the United States. In 2015, 48 million Americans used an illicit drug or misused a prescription medication, and 67 million Americans reported binge drinking in the past month. Yet, only a few individuals with a substance misuse problem or addiction find their way into treatment. Although the report describes alcohol and drugs as a public health concern, the report also provides a way forward to reduce the impact of alcohol and drugs. This landmark report provides information and actionable recommendations aimed at strengthening and improving the health of communities and families.
Providers in the treatment and recovery field are aware of the difficulty of reaching those who are not yet in treatment. The report reinforced this awareness and revealed that only one-in-ten individuals with a substance use disorder actually receives services. Moreover, nearly 21 million people in America have a substance use disorder – more than the number of Americans suffering from all cancers combined. When addiction is not addressed, it changes brain chemistry and functioning, and can negatively affect overall health and well-being.
Vice Admiral Murthy noted at the report press conference that the societal cost of alcohol misuse is $249 billion and $193 billion for illicit drug use. He also emphasized the importance of prevention, because the human toll on individuals, families, and communities is affected not only by addiction, but also by alcohol and drug-related crime, violence, abuse, and child neglect.
The Surgeon General’s report is based on the latest research and literature to describe:
- the neurobiology of substance use, misuse, and addiction;
- prevention programs and policies;
- early intervention, treatment, and management of substance use disorders;
- recovery and the paths to wellness; and
- health care systems and substance use disorders.
“This Report takes a comprehensive look at the problem; covering topics including misuse of alcohol, prescription drugs, and other substances, and bringing together the best available science on the adverse health consequences of substance misuse,” said SAMHSA Principal Deputy Administrator Kana Enomoto. “Our goal [is to] to equip health care providers, communities, policymakers, law enforcement, and others with the evidence, the tools, and the information they need to take action to address this growing epidemic.”
While the report highlighted the significant treatment gaps and obstacles preventing individuals from reaching out to explore treatment and recovery, it also noted some reasons for hope and provided information to address this public health concern:
- Current research supports the understanding that addiction to alcohol or drugs is a chronic disease of the brain. Substance use disorders should be treated as a medical issue like any other.
- Effective prevention programs are available for communities, schools, health care providers, and families.
- Treatment is effective. Substance use disorders can be effectively treated with behavioral therapy, and medications are available for treating alcohol and opioid use disorders. When combined, medication and behavioral therapies can effectively help people manage their symptoms.
- Recovery is possible for everyone. There are many paths to recovery. Peer support services such as peer group meetings, recovery housing, and recovery coaches are valuable assets to support recovery after treatment.
- Drug courts and other diversion programs in the criminal justice system work to engage those accused of non-violent drug offenses in treatment instead of jail.
- The Surgeon General’s vision for the future includes actionable recommendations and presents a realistic vision to address substance misuse and substance use disorders in our country.
- The appendices of the report contain important facts about alcohol and drugs, prevention, and treatment resource guides, and details on evidence-based prevention programs and policies.
- Supplementary materials, including fact sheets, tools, resources, and a glossary, are located on the Surgeon General’s website. These resources provide an overview of the report and contain information that will allow individuals, providers, and organizations to take action to address substance misuse and substance use disorders within their homes and communities.
SAMHSA played an important role in the development of the Surgeon General’s Report and serves as a primary resource for the prevention, treatment, and recovery provider communities. The report emphasizes that together, we can change the conversation and focus on preventing substance use disorders, while connecting people with substance use disorders, with the treatment services and recovery support they need.
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