Remember the 1964 Surgeon General’s report on smoking and health that first linked cigarettes to cancer? Well, even if you don’t, it led to a successful national campaign against tobacco use. Yesterday, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued a call for a cultural shift in how we think about addiction in his 426 page report “Facing Addiction in America.” In it, he highlights the fact that more than 20 million Americans have substance abuse disorders (more than are diagnosed with cancer) but only 10% of those received treatment because of the stigma associated with addiction. 20 million Americans!
Drug overdoses have surpassed car accidents as a cause of death because of the opioid epidemic. Prescription painkillers have killed more than 200,000 people since 1999 and their abuse has let to resurgence in heroin addiction because heroin is easier and cheaper to obtain.
“Science tells us clearly that addiction is a disease of the brain. It is a chronic illness that we must approach with the same skill and compassion with which we approach heart disease, diabetes and cancer,” wrote Murthy. It is a legitimate illness, not a moral weakness.
Murthy’s report lays out recommendations for elected officials, the medical community, law enforcement and the public to improve the way addiction is treated. Hillary Clinton had pledged to spend $10 billion on a wide-ranging initiative to combat addiction if elected President. We don’t know what President-elect Trump’s plan is but the hardest hit sections of the country in the opiate crisis are states that voted for Trump. Murthy’s report offers a roadmap for solving the problem. It is my hope that Trump reads the Surgeon General’s report and takes seriously his call to action.