LOS ANGELES, Nov. 28, 2016 /PRNewswire/ — The United States Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, issued the first-ever Surgeon General’s report on addiction on Thursday. Dr. Murthy stated that he intends for the report to galvanize support to change drug policy in the United States in the way that a similar report over 50 years ago accelerated efforts to combat smoking. Dr. Michael H. Lowenstein, Medical Director of the Waismann Method Medical Group, supports the Surgeon General’s efforts and is enthusiastic about the prospect of changing the way we view and treat substance abuse in the United States.
The report comes at a time when substance abuse issues are ravaging the country. An estimated 20.8 million people in the U.S. are suffering from a substance use disorder. This figure is similar to the number of people who have diabetes and is 150% larger than the number of people who have all types of cancer combined. Additionally, the number of deaths from drug overdose is at an all-time high, with 47,055 deaths in 2014. Unfortunately, the resources devoted to substance abuse lag far behind the government funds allocated to combating these other medical conditions. Despite a commitment from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to review policies designed to reduce rates of drug addiction, little traction has been gained in the fight against substance abuse.
In the report, entitled “Facing Addiction in America,” Dr. Murthy stated clearly that the available scientific evidence indicates that addiction is an illness, not a moral failing. Rather than addiction being a disease of choice or weak willpower, it has become clear that exposure to addictive substances can lead to full-blown addiction in men and women of all ages, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds. These substances actually change the brain’s circuitry, affecting the reward system, stress response, and ability to make decisions. Given this biological basis for addiction, Dr. Murthy is calling for a shift in the way we conceptualize and treat substance abuse.
In response to the Surgeon General’s report, Waismann Method Medical Director Dr. Michael Lowenstein stated, “I firmly agree that addiction is a brain-based condition that requires thoughtful, science-based treatment. The vast majority of people in need of addiction treatment do not receive anything that approximates science-based care, and very few treatment providers are medical professionals with the skills, training, and credentials to successfully treat these complex issues. We must treat addiction with the same urgency and compassion that we do with any other medical illness.” Dr. Lowenstein continued, “Just 1 in 10 Americans receives the ant treatment for addiction. We can do better than that, and I am excited to be at the forefront of this change in the way we treat and view opiate dependence in America.”
The report also reviewed evidence supporting the use of early medical intervention and empirically-supported treatments to combat substance abuse. Several available medical treatments for addiction are supported by scientific evidence, but they remain poorly disseminated to treatment centers. Dr. Murthy’s report calls for expanded access to these scientifically-based interventions, allowing patients to benefit from treatments that actually work.
Dr. Murthy’s report outlined causes for substance abuse, including overprescribing of opiate painkillers by the nation’s physicians. The Surgeon General called for physicians to adhere to new CDC guidelines for prescribing opiates, which is intended to reduce rates of prescription opioid addiction and overdose. The report also advocates for expanded use of prescription drug monitoring programs, which are designed to limit inappropriate prescribing of opioid painkillers.
At the Waismann Method, it is our hope that soon there will no longer be space treatment centers that blame addiction on an individual’s character or moral failings. Effective, science-based medical and psychosocial treatments for addiction can replace the shame-based approaches that people suffering from drug abuse have suffered under for years. Additionally, employing treatments supported by scientific evidence has the potential to be more efficacious than treatment-as-usual, resulting in a lower economic and societal cost of drug addiction.