Last week marked an incredible leap forward for the addiction treatment industry: for the first time ever, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a report on the state of addiction in America. Thanks to our friends at Facing Addiction, I was lucky enough to attend the intimate gathering of industry professionals to commemorate the report’s debut.
I was encouraged by the tone of the summit, which I hope will set the stage for public perceptions surrounding addiction. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, announced that no longer should addiction be viewed as a moral failing, but rather a disease.
By means of this report, we can see hope for a cultural shift of how substance use disorder is depicted and treated. The report offers scientific evidence for the biological, psychological, and social frameworks to not only elevate the standard of care, but to combat the stigma associated with the disease.
The comprehensive report addresses substance use problems in the United States through several key components, including:
I gathered four key takeaways from the summit, which I believe will help shape future discussions surrounding addiction treatment in the United States in years to come.
1. Addiction must be recognized as a public health crisis
We know that substance use disorders are devastating our communities and taking far too many lives. This critical health problem affects more people than cancer, yet treatment for the disease is immensely underappreciated compared to other illnesses. Despite being one of the most pressing health care crises facing America, only one in 10 people living with a substance use disorder receive any sort of treatment.
Murthy reassured the hope for a recovered nation, noting the power of scientific advancements and their application to enhance treatment processes. By better understanding how the brain is affected by addiction, we can approach addiction in a manner similar to other diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
2. A call for better prevention programs
Murthy announced that we need to implement more prevention programs. There is a long way to go on these education initiatives, but prevention must be a collective effort. The actions we take to reduce substance use disorders among Americans is a complex process, and while there is no single solution, Murthy believes prevention is a key starting point. Prevention efforts must be in the hands of physicians, educators, healthcare professionals, family members, loved ones and peers. It’s in all of our hands to value each and every life.
3. A shift towards more integrated healthcare systems
As outlined in the report and addressed throughout the summit, the needle is moving towards a more integrated approach to treating substance use disorder. There is a growing number of general health care practices treating mild to moderate substance use disorders. The lectures given at the summit were in favor for adoption of an integrated healthcare system in order to recognize the early signs of the disease.
Through regular wellness checkups and interventions, a person can be treated before the condition progresses to a severe state. General health care practices are increasingly screening for substance misuse; however, due to a shortage of resources and limited training, there is still a long way to go before integrated care becomes mainstream.
4. We must all stand up for recovery
Reducing relapses from substance use disorder is possible. Long-term recovery is also possible, and according to the office of the US Surgeon General, through evidence-based practices, more individuals in treatment will have hope for a future in recovery. We must look at recovery not just as a remission of symptoms but also as the progression toward holistic health and wellbeing. By reframing addiction and recovery, it’s possible for those suffering to come forward, to not live in shame and to get help.
After attending the event, I’m invigorated by the discussions and hopeful predictions for treatment and prevention efforts. Addiction has historically been a difficult conversation for Americans to talk about, but this report allows us in the addiction treatment industry to bring focus to the topic with new energy. Addiction is a stark threat to the United States, but this report gives us evidence, tools and the information we need to combat this issue and save lives.