Wednesday, October 19, 2016

U.S. Surgeon General’s Groundbreaking Report Sets the Stage for Eliminating Stigma, Preventing and Treating Substance Use Disorders
More than 20 million people across the nation have substance use disorders (SUDs) and the numbers of overdose deaths from several types of drugs have, on average, tripled between 2001 and 2014, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Although treatments for all types of SUDs have been proven to be effective, only about 10 percent of individuals receive any type of specialty treatment. These statistics reinforce the timeliness and importance of the groundbreaking report, Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health, which Vivek H. Murthy, MD, MBA, Vice Admiral, U.S. Public Health Service Surgeon General, released on November 17, 2016.

Dr. Murthy’s statement that addiction is not a character flaw or a moral failing is powerful and will help foster progress in the ongoing battle against stigma, which, along with lack of insurance, is the most common reason why people do not seek treatment when they need it. The details on the neurological framework of addiction in the Report, proving it is a disease of the brain, also helps fight stigma by providing necessary education and understanding.

We are pleased that this is in line with Governor Christie’s public statements about addiction being a disease and making substance use treatment a priority for New Jersey. The political will to expand access to services is essential, and it is very heartening to know that leaders in both our state and federal governments are focused on addressing this critical health need that has grown to be a public health crisis.

The Surgeon General’s Report details biological and other factors that increase risk for substance use, misuse and addiction and highlights programs that aim to not only mitigate risk factors, but also reinforce protective factors. These factors are the same for depression, bullying and risky behaviors, and they are predictive factors of addiction and other behavioral health challenges. This reinforces the importance of prevention and early intervention, as such efforts are designed to have a far-reaching impact on individuals’ lives.

Notably, the Report acknowledges and expounds upon the many paths to recovery and the need for ongoing recovery support services. This reinforces the fact that the medical model is not sufficient for treating SUDs because these illnesses rarely, if ever, follow a linear path toward resolution. Unexpected stressors in individuals’ lives could trigger symptoms and relapse at any time. Therefore, the full continuum of services must always be available to everyone at every stage of treatment and recovery.

The Report illustrates the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS’) dedication to leverage opportunities identified in ongoing efforts for healthcare and criminal justice reform, information technologies, research and resulting clinical advances to expand access to effective prevention and treatment services. The report’s emphasis on integrating physical health care and substance use services, as well as a public health approach, is greatly appreciated and clearly demonstrates the Surgeon General’s and his team’s knowledge of what works and what is needed to truly address the addiction crisis throughout our country. Sixty percent of individuals with SUD’s also have mental illnesses and in this population, only 48 percent receive treatment for either disorder. Integrated care is necessary to address both of these disorders, as well as physical co-morbidities that are common in this group and often not treated. The lack of treatment for these multiple health conditions leads to a greatly declining quality of life and tremendous need for costly healthcare services. All of this can and must be prevented.

The Report also contains a call to action and recommends specific endeavors different groups of individuals – parents, families, educators, healthcare professionals, public policy makers, researchers and all community members – can undertake to help ensure access to SUD treatment for those in need and to help prevent others from developing SUDs.

Addressing the addiction crisis absolutely requires a team effort and we admire Dr. Murthy for taking the lead in convening experts from HHS, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health and Services Administration and other areas of the field and rallying all stakeholders nationwide to work together on this critical issue. All of us at NJAMHAA look forward to our ongoing partnerships with federal and state leaders, our members and other stakeholders to give individuals with SUDs opportunities to achieve recovery and help others protect themselves from the dangers of alcohol and other drugs.

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