Surgeon General Vivek Murthy recently released the first-ever Surgeon General’s Report presenting the state of the science on substance use, addiction, and health. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) applauds this historic examination of the health effects of drug and alcohol misuse and commends Dr. Murthy for taking action to raise awareness about this critical public health issue.
“The report confirms what we have known for a long time: addiction is a disease of the brain that can and should be treated with evidence-based, compassionate care,” said Dr. Jeffrey Goldsmith, ASAM President. “For too long, policy makers, the public, and even healthcare providers have misunderstood this disease as some sort of moral failing. We hope this report will put an end to that misperception once and for all.”
As the report recognizes, substance use and addiction are significant and substantial public health challenges. Data from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reveal that more than 27 million people older than 12 — or about 1 in 10 Americans — used an illicit drug (or misused a prescription drug) in the past 30 days and 17.3 million reported heavy alcohol use in the past month. In 2015, approximately 20.8 million Americans older than 12 had a substance use disorder related to their use of alcohol or illicit drugs in the past year.
The report recommends a broad array of actions needed at the federal, state, and community level to expand access to evidence-based treatment services and prevention programs, and much work will need to be done to operationalize them. For example, the Report recommends full integration of addiction treatment services with general healthcare, but notes that is not possible without a well-trained and fairly compensated healthcare workforce. Ensuring the next generation of medical professionals is equipped to screen and treat patients for addiction will require major changes to clinical professional school curricula, and ensuring patients can access these services will require health plans and insurers to pay for them as they do general medical services.
“By compiling the state of the science and giving it the Surgeon General’s seal of approval, this report both symbolizes how far we’ve come in understanding addiction as a public health issue and gives us sure footing as we continue to advocate for science-based prevention and treatment policies,” said Dr. Kelly Clark, president-elect of ASAM. “We look forward to working partners and policy makers at all levels of government to make its recommendations a reality.”