U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, has issued a groundbreaking report on America’s addiction crisis. The report concludes that millions of Americans suffer from alcoholism or addiction to legal and illegal drugs, but only a fraction are being treated. One in seven people in the United States is expected to develop a substance use disorder at some point, but only 1 in 10 will receive treatment, the report said. This is the first report of its kind from a surgeon general that addresses substance use disorders and the wider range of health problems associated with them. It could not come at a more critical time. More people died of drug overdoses in 2014 than any year on record. It is estimated that 79 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. The report also underscores what many in the health center community are already saying: that addiction is a chronic brain disease, not a character flaw, and addressing the problem will require a cultural change in understanding.
The report also contains some startling numbers: More people use prescription opioids than use tobacco. There are more people with substance use disorders than people with cancer. And substance use disorders are expensive, costing the U.S. more than $420 billion a year. Among the Surgeon General’s recommendations are that highly effective community-based prevention programs “should be widely implemented,” and that “full integration of the continuum of services for substance use disorders with the rest of health care could significantly improve the quality, effectiveness, and safety of all health care.”
As we’ve noted before in this blog, Community Health Centers have been fighting addiction in their communities for some time with a variety of approaches. Of late, opioid addiction has been a focus as health centers have seen their communities decimated by addiction to the drug. Over 270 health centers also received $94 in federal funding to improve and expand the ways to treat opioid addiction in underserved populations. Many health centers are using these funds to innovate and expand services beyond medication assisted treatments to include pain management, counseling, group therapy, acupuncture, and holistic medicine.
Stay tuned for our next NACHC podcast, which will feature an interview with Louise Reese, CEO of the West Virginia Primary Care Association, a state which is at the epicenter of the nationwide opioid addiction epidemic.