Surgeon General: More People Use Opioids Than Tobacco

And other surprising news from surgeon general's first report on substance addiction
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 17, 2016 9:41 AM CST
Surgeon General: More People Use Opioids Than Tobacco
People may be more likely these days to pop an OxyContin than light up a cigarette.   (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)

The latest (and first) surgeon general's report on substance addiction was released Thursday, and it offers up a surprising slew of factoids. Per NPR, Dr. Vivek Murthy says more people are hooked on prescription opioids than tobacco, 50% more people (20.8 million, per recent estimates) have substance abuse disorders than have cancer, and dealing with all of these disorders runs the US more than $420 billion a year. And it's not something we can turn a blind eye to any longer, Murthy warns. "At a time when we are resource constrained already, we cannot afford, for humanitarian reasons or financial reasons, to not address addiction in America," Murthy tells USA Today. And he lays out the financial side of things in stark numbers: For every dollar put into addiction treatment programs, for example, $4 in health care costs and $7 in criminal justice costs are recouped.

Which means we have to reframe how we look at people with substance abuse problems, Murthy notes, viewing them not as criminals but as patients—especially since only one in 10 currently receive treatment, per the New York Times. "We have to recognize [it] isn't evidence of a character flaw or a moral failing," he says. "It's a chronic disease of the brain that deserves the same compassion that any other chronic illness does." He tells NPR that preventive measures should start in schools, teaching kids how to handle stress without drugs or alcohol. He also notes ObamaCare has upped access to treatment programs, and he's now looking to the Trump administration to show similar support. "I am hopeful that we are all on the same page when it comes to addressing this crisis—and addressing it urgently," he tells NPR. (A recovering heroin addict's before-and-after selfies.)

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