Sur­geon gen­eral is­sues ‘new call to ac­tion’ on ad­dic­tion


Los An­ge­les Times

— When Dr. Vivek Murthy left his Mas­sachusetts hospi­tal three years ago to be­come U.S. sur­geon gen­eral, the nurses


who had known him since he was a res­i­dent had a part­ing plea: Do some­thing about ad­dic­tion.

On Thurs­day, with his ten­ure near­ing an end, Murthy tried to make good on that re­quest with the re­lease of a first-of-its-kind re­port call­ing for “a cul­tural shift in how we think about ad­dic­tion.”

“For far too long, too many in our coun­try have viewed ad­dic­tion as a moral fail­ing,” Murthy said in the re­port. “It is a chronic ill­ness that we must ap­proach with the same skill and com­pas­sion with which we ap­proach heart dis­ease, di­a­betes and can­cer.”

Murthy was sched­uled to speak at a fo­rum on sub­stance abuse in Los An­ge­les on Thurs­day af­ter­noon.

The re­port comes at a time of great con­cern about ad­dic­tion and un­cer­tainty about how the Trump ad- min­is­tra­tion will re­spond to it. Drug over­doses have sur­passed car ac­ci­dents as a cause of death in re­cent years, a surge driven by the opi­oid epi­demic. Pre­scrip­tion painkillers have killed more than 200,000 peo­ple since 1999 and their abuse has led to a resur­gence in heroin ad­dic­tion.

The 426-page re­port, ti­tled “Fac­ing Ad­dic­tion in Amer­ica,” was mod­eled on the 1964 sur­geon gen­eral’s re­port on smok­ing and health that first linked cig­a­rettes to can­cer and led to a suc­cess­ful na­tional cam­paign against to­bacco use.

Murthy de­scribed the re­port as “a new call to ac­tion.” It lays out rec­om­men­da­tions for elected of­fi­cials, the med­i­cal com­mu­nity, law en­force­ment and the pub­lic to im­prove the way ad­dic­tion is treated.

More than 20 mil­lion Americans suf­fer from sub­stance abuse dis­or­ders, far more than are di­ag­nosed with can­cer, but only about 10 per­cent re­ceive treat­ment, ac­cord­ing to the re­port. Murthy said that stigma sur­round­ing ad­dic­tion dis­suades peo­ple from get­ting help and the re­port re­peat­edly re­ferred to ad­dic­tion as “a chronic brain dis­ease.”

Many ad­vo­cates had pinned their hopes on Hil­lary Clin­ton, who had pledged to spend $10 bil­lion on a wide-rang­ing ini­tia­tive to com­bat ad­dic­tion. Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump’s po­si­tion is less de­fined and a roll­back of the Af­ford­able Care Act could mean less in­sur­ance cov­er­age for mea­sures Murthy de­scribed in his re­port, such as the use of med­i­ca­tions to treat ad­dic­tion.

“There’s no ques­tion we missed our best chance to rev­o­lu­tion­ize this space when Hil­lary Clin­ton lost,” said for­mer Rep. Pa­trick Kennedy (D-R.I.), a re­cov­er­ing ad­dict who has long ad­vo­cated for bet­ter men­tal health care.

He said he was try­ing to give Trump the ben­e­fit of the doubt on ad­dic­tion is­sues, not­ing that the pres­i­dent-elect lost his brother to al­co­holism and that many vot­ers who sup­ported him come from states dev­as­tated by abuse.

“The hard­est-hit sec­tions of the coun­try in the opi­ate cri­sis are red states,” Kennedy said.

In the run-up to the pres­i­den­tial pri­maries in New Hamp­shire and Iowa, ar­eas reel­ing from opi­oid abuse, ad­dic­tion was a cen­tral cam­paign is­sue with can­di­dates shar­ing sto­ries about fam­ily mem­bers and friends who were af­fected. The deeply di­vided Congress passed rare bi­par­ti­san leg­is­la­tion to ad­dress the opi­oid epi­demic last year, but Repub­li­cans ul­ti­mately balked at Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s re­quest for a bil­lion dol­lars of fund­ing to im­ple­ment the mea­sures and the is­sue faded in the gen­eral elec­tion.

“We were re­ally dis­ap­pointed that the is­sue didn’t come up in any of the de­bates,” said Greg Wil­liams, the co-founder of the non­profit Fac­ing Ad­dic­tion, which is work­ing with the sur­geon gen­eral’s of­fice.

He said Murthy’s re­port of­fers a road map for solv­ing the prob­lem and “the chal­lenge is we have to find the pub­lic will to im­ple­ment what we know can work.”


U.S. Sur­geon Gen­eral Dr. Vivek H. Murthy speaks on May 20 at the Build­ing a Health­ier Fu­ture Sum­mit in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. Murthy re­leased a re­port Thurs­day call­ing for a “cul­tural shift in how we think about ad­dic­tion.”

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