Facing Addiction in East Texas

Facing Addiction in East Texas

A half-century ago, the U.S. surgeon general released a report on the health impacts of smoking that shaped the public and government’s attitudes toward tobacco for years to come. In November 2016, another surgeon general’s report was issued – on addiction and substance misuse and abuse, Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health. We hope this report will have a similar impact.

According to Dr. Vivek Murthy, U.S. surgeon general, nearly 21 million people in the United States have a substance use disorder. This number is similar to those with diabetes and 1.5 times higher than people with all cancers combined. However, this statistic does not include persons who misuse substances yet haven’t been formally diagnosed with a disorder.

Substance use disorders take an immense toll on our society. They cause significant individual and public health consequences including more than 88,000 deaths related to alcohol misuse and more than 47,000 deaths due to drug overdoses each year. Substance use disorders cost over $420 billion a year in health care costs, lost economic productivity, and cost to the criminal justice system.

The report puts impressive numbers to this problem: 1 in 7 Americans will face an addiction disorder, yet only 10 percent of those receive treatment; more people use prescription opioids than tobacco; more Americans have a substance abuse disorder than have cancer; 1 in 5 Americans report past-month binge drinking.

Despite the scale of the problem, substance abuse disorders receive disproportionately less research investment, coverage in clinical training and public attention than do other chronic illnesses. The opioid crisis has certainly received a lot of attention lately. But in terms of actual cost, we lose the most lives and suffer the most costs from a highly preventable disorder – alcohol misuse and addiction. In 2015, roughly 66 million Americans reported that they’d engaged in binge drinking – that’s 4 or more drinks in one sitting for females, and 5 or more drinks for males. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites that people drive drunk more than 300,000 times each day, but only about 3,200 are arrested.

Until recently, Dr. Murthy says substance abuse was treated as “a disease of choice, a character flaw or a more failing.” There is a large body of research that proves these disorders actually change the circuitry in the brain. Substance use disorders affect your ability to make decisions, and change the reward system and stress response. This means that addiction is a chronic disease of the brain.

Dr. Murthy called for the nation to treat substance use disorders with the same urgency and compassion that we do with any other illness. In an interview with USA TODAY, Dr. Murthy said, “At a time when we are resource-constrained already, we cannot afford, for humanitarian reasons or financial reasons, to not address addiction in America.”

The report draws attention to the existence of highly-effective community-based prevention programs and policies. This gives those of us working through Next Step Community Solutions hope that more people and more resources will help us achieve our goals of reducing underage drinking, and preventing marijuana and synthetic marijuana use, and prescription drug abuse.

Our strategies aim at reducing risk and enhancing protective factors among youth, just as Dr. Murthy advocates. We work with multiple communities to execute parent education efforts aimed at encouraging parents to talk to kids about alcohol and providing them with practical tips for how and when to have those conversations; we conduct school-based education efforts to raise awareness to the dangers of substance use, promote emotional resiliency, teach effective, healthy coping skills, and practice realistic, effective refusal skills. Next Step also works with a wide variety of community sectors to promote new social norms that reject underage drinking and the Drug Enforcement Agency to promote proper use and disposal of prescription medications.

We are hopeful this report and the surgeon general’s community-wide call to action will heighten awareness that every person in our community plays a role