In November, the U.S. Surgeon General, Vice Admiral Vivek Murthy, released a report on alcohol, drugs, and health of the US population. It is the first significant report released from the SG’s office since the report of the Surgeon General’s Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health in January 1964.
Similar to the report on smoking, the most recent one includes many eye-opening statistics and trends that are critical for those who are attempting to understand the big picture and shift their ideals surrounding substance abuse. It offers defining actions we can take to prevent and treat substance use disorders, with the hope to evoke policy change, access to treatment, and other programs.
Since the report is 420 pages in length (yikes!), I thought I would give a brief overview that highlights some of the most relevant information.
One of the key parts to understanding substance misuse is to actually realize that it affects more than just the individual user. Additionally, substance misuse does not just apply to the frequency or amount of the substance consumed. It does not just pertain to illicit drugs; alcohol and prescription medications are drugs too.
The definition from the Surgeon General’s report defines substance misuse as the “use of alcohol or other drugs in a manner, situation, amount, or frequency that could cause harm to the user or those around them.
Even with such an all-encompassing definition, some may still feel that substance misuse doesn’t affect them. They make think they shouldn’t care or have empathy towards those that it does affect.
The truth is, substance misuse affects everyone.
Maybe your closest friend, brother, or sister happens to be one of the 66.7 million Americans who reported binge drinking in the last month. Or possibly, they are one of 27.1 million people who are currently using illicit or prescription drugs. Each year 88,000 deaths are related to alcohol misuse, and a person is killed every 30 minutes due to an alcohol-related car crash.
Still not relating?
Well what if I told you substance misuse and substance use disorders cost the U.S. (your tax dollars) more than $400 billion annually in crime, health, and productivity.
The long-term effects of substance misuse are staggering.
A recent analysis from the CDC showed that alcohol and drug misuse has caused an approximate four month decline in life expectancy among white Americans. This is attributed to the over 47,000 deaths due to drug overdose noted in 2014 with 28,647 of those involving some type of opioid. The opioid epidemic itself is ravaging small rural areas to larger urban cities leading to an increased use of heroin and, most recently, designer heroin laced with carfentanil.
So, with all of these problems, how do we come up with an effective solution?
As described in the Surgeon General’s report, there must be a comprehensive approach rather than just focusing on one particular area. Some of the suggestions are as follows:
- Enhanced public education to improve awareness about substance use problems and demand for more effective policies and practices to address them.
- Widespread implementation of evidence-based prevention policies and programs to prevent substance misuse and related harms.
- Improved access to evidence-based treatment services, integrated with mainstream health care, for those at risk for, or affected by, substance use disorders.
- Recovery support services (RSS) to assist individuals in maintaining remission and preventing relapse.
- Research-informed public policies and financing strategies to ensure that substance misuse and use disorder services are accessible, compassionate, efficient, and sustainable.
What I like about the Surgeon General’s report is that it doesn’t just highlight the problems with substance misuse; it also poses actual solutions. Additionally, it seeks to educate not only practitioners in the field on the growing trends and statistics, it also breaks down the information for the general public. In order to prevent and reduce substance abuse, it has to be a community effort.
A lot of times, the general public thinks it doesn’t have a lot of power when it comes to topics like this, when actually it does. We are the ones who vote on policies, encourage our policymakers to allocate funding to these important causes, and advocate for a change in the stigma surrounding substance misuse.
Knowledge is power, and it is something that is accessible to everyone.
The Surgeon General’s report goes into detail about types of substances that are misused, general definitions and jargon used in the medical field surrounding substance use disorders, treatment programs/access/availability, substance misuse across the demographic spectrum, cost/impact of substance misuse, and other topics. You can read the full report here.