I want US to understand magnitude of drug, alcohol addiction crisis: Surgeon General Vivek Murthy

New report calls for immediate efforts to control epidemic.

Vivek Murthy
Vivek Murthy

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy’s annual report on drug and alcohol addiction has shed light on the menacing level of drug abuse in the country.

The report titled “Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon’s General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health,” makes a call for immediate efforts to control the epidemic.

The Washington Post reported that drug and alcohol addiction are placed along with smoking, AIDS and other public health issues experienced by the country in last 50 years. Murthy called the crisis “a moral test for America.”

“The reason I’m issuing this report is I want to call our country to action around what has become a pressing public health issue,” Murthy said in an interview. “I want our country to understand the magnitude of this crisis. I’m not sure everyone does.”

According to the report, more than 500,000 Americans have died since 2000 as a result of drug overuse. In 2015 alone, substance-abuse disorders have affected about 20.8 million people in the US which are equal to the number of people affected with diabetes and 1½ times as many as those with cancer.

Despite being a matter of growing concern, Murthy says that addiction is a treatable brain disease, thanks to the development in the medical field. The report covers information on various aspects of drug abuse, including its treatment and prevention. But, only one in 10 people receive treatment.

“We would never tolerate a situation where only one in 10 people with cancer or diabetes get treatment, and yet we do that with substance-abuse disorders,” Murthy said.

The report noted that drug and alcohol abuse adversely affect brain functions. A person’s ability to avoid drugs will come down as it affects the area of the brain that controls impulse. Another issue raised by Murthy is the use of drugs and alcohol during adolescence. According to Murthy, drugs will cause damage to developing brain if a person starts consuming them in adolescence. A person who begins drinking before the age of 15 has four times the chance of becoming addicted than someone who starts after 21, Murthy said.

“I’m calling for a culture change in how we think about addiction,” he said. “Unless we eradicate the negative [stereotypes] . . . we won’t create an environment where people feel comfortable coming forward and asking for help.”

Last year, Murthy had said that the country should treat addiction as a chronic disease than seeing it as a moral failing.

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