Surgeon General Wants America To Face Addiction Problem
The Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Vivek Murthy, made news this past week by releasing a report on drug addiction in this country, the first such report of its kind from the office of the Surgeon General.
The report is already being compared to a similar one released in 1964 by Luther Terry, the Surgeon General at the time, that exposed the dangers and negative health impacts that smoking tobacco could have on an individual. Before the release of this report, it wasn’t really known that smoking was extremely harmful for a person, but with the surgeon general’s findings it was brought to the public spotlight and governmental and public opinion swung dramatically. It helped to shape the public discourse on smoking in this country for the years to come and in doing so an estimated 8 million people’s lives were saved from premature death attributed to tobacco use.
The hopes for the Surgeon General’s report on drug addiction are the same and many people in the media and recovery communities throughout the country believe that the report offers a prospect for change that we haven’t had before. It, in a sense, shows an almost complete departure from the ‘Just Say No’ stance that we have taken for years in this country, and it appears to treat substance abuse with the seriousness it deserves. Not only that it finally takes the stance that Substance abuse is not a criminal activity or choice but rather they have a disease not a moral failing.
While most of the information presented in Dr. Vivek’s report is not new to those who have studied drug addiction in this country, it does help to paint a broader picture of the problem and puts substance abuse into its proper perspective. Which is something that has lacked during all of the previous public talks regarding drug addiction.
The report found that more people abuse prescription opioids then smoke tobacco and that more people suffer from a substance abuse problem then have cancer. These two findings alone will be shocking to many, as it shows that drug addiction is a huge problem in this country and not just some isolated issue among poorer populations in inner cities, or among disenfranchised morally defunct people. It shows that addiction is rampant within our society and that in order to help combat it, we need, as a people, to come together to enact change.
The report also disclosed that substance abuse costs the United States $420 billion every year, due to loss of worker productivity, health care costs, and incarceration, but yet only $30.6 billion was spent in 2016 in order to attempt prevention and policing. A huge disparity to say the least and when looking at it from a simple cost-benefit standpoint, putting more resources and public action towards fighting the problem would probably save the country money in the long run.
The most promising aspect of the report was a call to shift public perception of substance abuse, in particular opioid abuse, away from the common misconception that it is a disease of choice. This has been one of the major obstacles in attempting to get people to take substance abuse seriously in this country and it is because a good portion of the population believes that addicts and alcoholics do it to themselves. They believe that the addict or alcoholic wakes up in the morning and has a choice in whether they will continue to participate in risky and dangerous behaviors, and they believe this because they have never experienced addiction themselves.
They do not know what it is like to get up each and everyday and be driven by an insatiable need to get high or drunk, and so they couldn’t possibly understand the lack of choice faced by millions of addicts and alcoholics every day. Addiction is a compulsion that is stronger than the conscious mind can battle alone and with the Surgeon General reporting this, we will hopefully see a greater acceptance of this fact within the wider population. In fact, even if this report accomplishes nothing else, changing the public perception on what addiction is, would be monumental in the long-term fight against substance abuse.
The report also suggested possible courses of action that we can take as a country in order to help curb the substance abuse problem. Many of these suggestions are based in prevention and education and not incarceration. For many years our “prevention” policy in regards to substance abuse was jail. Our prison system is filled with non-violent drug offenders, which is not only a huge burden on the American taxpayer, but also has proven to be highly ineffective in helping addiction. So with this report, we will hopefully see lawmakers and other influential Americans adopt the stance that in order to help fight substance abuse we must learn how to properly educate children and teens on the dangers of drug abuse, while also giving them real tools to cope with the circumstances that can lead to addiction.
I for one do not know how any of this will actually pan out, but I am hopeful because we are continuing, as a country, to talk about substance abuse. Initially I was skeptical when President Obama met with Macklemore to talk about the mounting opioid abuse problem and I believed that it would just be another social concern that was addressed quickly and then forgotten in the continual melee of 24-hour news. This however does not appear to be the case, and as of now it looks like the government is actually looking at this problem in earnest and are searching for ways to help.
Rose Lockinger is a passionate member of the recovery community. A rebel who found her cause, she uses blogging and social media to raise the awareness about the disease of addiction. She has visited all over North and South America. Single mom to two beautiful children she has learned parenting is without a doubt the most rewarding job in the world. Currently the Outreach Director at Stodzy Internet Marketing.