In November 2016, the Office of the Surgeon General issued its report, “Facing Addiction in America; The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health.” This is the SG’s first-ever report regarding addiction, and like its landmark 1964 report on tobacco use, seeks to sway public opinion and inspire broad action.
The SG urges that “all Americans” have a “strong economic imperative” and a “moral obligation” to address substance use disorders. The language is at times blunt: “How we respond to this crisis is a moral test for America. Are we a nation willing to take on the epidemic that is causing great human suffering and economic loss?”
Given the length of the report, only three key points will be identified. First, the report details the toll substance misuse takes on the nation. More than 22 million people reported use of an illegal drug in the past year and more than 20 million Americans have a substance use disorder. According to the report, 12.5 million Americans reported misusing prescription pain relievers in the past year. Seventy eight people die each day from an opioid overdose, a number that has quadrupled since 1999. One in seven Americans will become addicted to drugs or alcohol in their lifetimes, but only 10 percent will receive help. Turning to economics, the SG estimates that the crises costs the U.S. “$442 billion each year in healthcare costs, lost productivity and criminal justice costs.”
Although not detailed in the report, there were 3,383 overdose deaths in Pennsylvania in 2015. In Centre County, there were 48 overdose deaths since January 2015. This number does not a 20 year-old girl, a sophomore biology major at Penn State, who left Centre County to be with family this past Thanksgiving. She overdosed the Monday before her family’s Thanksgiving dinner. The people mourning her death locally include her in the count.
Second, the report details how research and scientific breakthroughs have “revolutionized the understanding of substance use disorders,” by demonstrating how addiction is driven by changes in the brain. Addiction, once widely viewed in the medical field (and society at large) as a moral failing is now understood to be a “chronic illness characterized by significant impairments in health, social function and voluntary control over substance use,” and influenced by genetic, developmental, behavioral, social and environmental factors. The report details how this enlightened understanding can lead to an integration of treatment into mainstream healthcare.
Finally, the report provides recommendations for action that individuals, families, community leaders, law enforcement, health care professionals, policymakers and researchers, working independently and together, can take to address the epidemic. Centre County is listening. The HOPE Initiative consists of many concerned individuals, agencies and organizations that are looking closely at the problem and taking a multi-pronged approach to address the epidemic. For more information or to join in these efforts, visit www.centrecountyhope.org.
To read the SG’s full report, visit addiction.surgeongeneral.gov.