Drug Addiction in America: What the New Surgeon General is Saying About America's Drug Epidemic

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Drug addiction in America is a persistent epidemic, one that is tirelessly sweeping the streets and the pharmacies of our hometowns nationwide. Today, over 27 million Americans have problems with prescription or illicit drugs. And according to the latest research, nearly 21 million people in this country meet the diagnostic criteria for a substance use disorder, for a clinical drug addiction. From the rapid rise of prescription drug abuse to longstanding battles with alcohol dependence, from the increasing news cycles detailing heroin overdose to the lowering age of drug initiation (now 13 years old!), there is no doubting the severity of drug addiction in America. But what can we do to stop it?

According to the new U.S. Surgeon General, Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy, there is no single solution to stop this drug epidemic. It will take multiple policies, multiple drug treatment programs, and a heavier focus on evidence-based prevention, treatment, and recovery. Most importantly, defeating this drug epidemic in America will take a cultural shift in how we perceive addiction. In his groundbreaking 2016 report, "Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health,” the Surgeon General calls for addiction awareness throughout the country:

“For far too long, too many in our country have viewed addiction as a moral failing. This unfortunate stigma has created an added burden of shame that has made people with substance use disorders less likely to come forward and seek help... We must help everyone see that addiction is not a character flaw – it is a chronic illness that we must approach with the same skill and compassion with which we approach heart disease, diabetes, and cancer… Above all, we can never forget that the faces of substance use disorders are real people.  They are a beloved family member, a friend, a colleague, and ourselves.”

Notably, this is the first report in U.S. history from a Surgeon General that is dedicated to the topic of substance addiction. Not only does the report raise awareness about the disease of addiction and the need for proper substance abuse treatment, it also offers new addiction statistics and actionable prevention methods to help minimize the prevalence of drug abuse in America. It also aims to strengthen the health of communities nationwide.

As a preeminent young adult drug treatment facility, Turnbridge stands by this Surgeon General report, as it wholly reflects our priorities in the prevention, treatment, and recovery of people affected by the neurobiological disease called addiction. This report, being a landmark report in addiction research, merits special attention. To help spread awareness about drug addiction in America, we’ve compiled some of the report’s most sobering facts about substance abuse below.

On Substance Addiction in America:

  • Approximately 20.8 million people in America are living with a substance use disorder. This number is comparable to the number of people who have diabetes, and 1.5 times greater than the number of people who have cancer. All the while, this number does not include the millions of people who abuse drugs, but do not yet have a full-fledged addiction.
  • Of those battling a substance addiction, about 2.7 million (13 percent) have both an alcohol use and an illicit drug use disorder. Over 41 percent also have a co-occurring mental disorder.

On U.S. Addiction Treatment:

  • In 2015, only 1 in 10 Americans received any type of treatment for a substance use disorder. Among those treated, only 64 percent received help in a clinical addiction treatment facility.
  • Over 40 percent of Americans do not seek treatment because they are not ready to stop using. The inability to stop drug use and control drug cravings is one of the most indicative signs of drug addiction.
  • Of those who needed but did not receive treatment in 2015, over 7 million were women. More than 1 million of those addicted were adolescents aged 12 to 17.

On Addiction in Our Youth:

  • About 75 percent of young adults (ages 18 to 30) admitted to treatment programs in the U.S. began using drugs at the age of 17 or younger.
  • Those who start drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to become addicted than those who start at age 20 or later.
  • Fact is, those who start using drugs or alcohol during adolescence often experience more chronic and intensive drug use later in life. Those who initiate substance abuse in their teens or younger are at greatest risk of developing a substance use disorder.

On the Opioid Epidemic in America:

  • More Americans use prescription opioids than use tobacco.
  • More than 289 million prescriptions are written each year for analgesic pain relievers, making these prescription opioids the most prescribed class of medications in the United States.
  • Yet opioid drugs are a gateway into heroin addiction.
  • Every 19 minutes, an American dies from an opioid or heroin overdose.
  • In 2014, a total of 47,055 drug overdose deaths occurred across the United States. 61 percent of these deaths were the result of opioid use – more than any other year on record.

On the Dangers of Alcohol Abuse:

  • Today, about one in five Americans binge drink. 1.4 million of these binge drinkers are teenagers aged 12 to 17.
  • Each year, alcohol abuse contributes to 88,000 deaths in the United States.
  • More than 2,200 of these deaths are due to alcohol overdose; an average of six deaths per day.
  • And in 2014, nearly 10,000 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes while driving under the influence of alcohol. This represents nearly one-third of traffic fatalities in America.

On the Costs of Substance Abuse:

  • The United States spends more than any other country on health care, yet it ranks 27th in life expectancy rates. This is largely due to substance misuse and the associated physical and mental health problems that stem from it.
  • Substance abuse disorders cost the United States more than $420 billion a year, with a combination of losses in motor vehicle crashes, workplace productivity, health care expenses, law enforcement and other criminal justice costs.
  • Approximately half of the United States prison population has an active substance use disorder.

There is no denying the fact that America needs a reformation, in our perceptions of drug addiction and our treatment of those who are battling this disease. In “Facing Addiction in America,” the Surgeon General makes it clear that with well-support scientific evidence, substance use disorders can be effectively treated. With proper drug treatment, relapse rates can be reduced to no higher than those for diabetes and asthma. With continuing, extended care, recovery is achievable.

In his 2016 report about drug addiction in America, the Surgeon General calls for prevention policies in schools, in colleges, in adult workplaces, and in homes. He calls for age-specific treatment programs for adolescents and young adults, as well as older adults. He calls for more research around recovery schools and collegiate recovery programs, as well as increased availability in recovery housing and sober living options for addicted individuals.

The time is now to make a change. If you or someone you love is battling a substance use disorder, know that early intervention is key to a lasting recovery and healthy life. Professional, residential drug treatment bears the greatest success for long-term sobriety, and can significantly reduce the risk of relapse. If you need help, please do not hesitate to reach out. Call Turnbridge today at 877-581-1793 to speak with an addiction specialist.