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Surgeon general’s report on addiction a call to action

By KATHY MILES

Guest columnist

On Nov. 17, the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General released the first comprehensive report dedicated to alcohol and drug misuse and addiction in America. “Facing Addiction in America: the Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health” is a call to action to address the problems which have been highlighted by the current opiate crisis across America.

Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy presents in the report the staggering costs to our country of alcohol and drug use: a yearly impact of $249 billion for alcohol misuse and $193 billion for illicit drug use. Since it was released just a few weeks ago, many are predicting major changes in public policy, funding priorities, and health care strategies which could equal the effects of the surgeon general’s 1964 report on smoking and health.

The report states that only about 10 percent of Americans who have a substance use disorder receive any form of professional treatment for it. Over 40 percent of people with a substance use disorder also have a co-occurring mental health disorder. However, less than half (48 percent) of those with both actually receive treatment for either.

Those concerning statistics contribute to the report’s strong call to increase accessibility to treatment across the country and close what is called the “treatment gap.” The surgeon general’s report is quick to alleviate our fears that this would only contribute to more costs for American taxpayers to absorb.  Research behind this report indicates that for every $1 invested in treatment of substance use disorders, our country saves $4 in related healthcare costs and lost productivity, and $7 in criminal justice costs.  On a local level, our own Boyle County Detention Center is a classic example of the high cost of untreated substance use disorders reflected in our increasing local incarceration costs.

Preventing future problems related to substance use disorders is also an important part of the report.  Neurobiological research strongly supports the importance of preventing and delaying young people from drinking or using drugs while their brains and bodies are still developing.

The report does not in any way say that government can alone do the necessary prevention work. Parents, law enforcement and community leaders must do a better job of applying these findings. Children and youth don’t raise themselves — caring, involved adults are required for healthy development. Teaching and modelling critical thinking skills must be done by those who have strong relationships with children and youth.

The report includes an important section focusing on “Reasons for Hope and Optimism.” For all who are discouraged about the extent of alcohol and drug problems in our country, and for all who are so saddened by the rising number of overdose deaths, this is encouraging. Positive trends that do give us hope for the future include the following:

1) addiction may be chronic, but it is treatable;

2) we now have data to show what prevention and treatment programs are most effective;

3) support services, such as 12-step programs and other mutual aid groups, are increasing across the country;

4)health care reform and health care delivery changes are improving recovery and prevention access; and

5) the criminal justice system is recognizing that its work must change — treatment and aftercare must be available.

You can read the full report, which can be found at addiction.surgeongeneral.gov. All citizens have a role to play in seeing that our country and our local community move forward toward improved health. Just as everyone’s vote matters, everyone’s understanding of and advocacy for actions that will move us beyond this current drug crisis also matter.

Health care coverage and accessibility and criminal justice planning are issues worthy of our close scrutiny in the coming weeks. Critical conversations will be occurring in Frankfort and in Washington.  Decisions will be made by our elected officials which impact all of us.

Let’s hope that this attorney general’s report will be taken seriously. Too many lives are at stake to ignore it.

Kathy Miles is the coordinator for the Boyle County Agency for Substance Abuse Policy Inc.