As communities across the country grapple with rising death rates linked to opioid abuse, the U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, M.D., has made the issue a focal point of his public health agenda. “We have to change how our country looks at addiction by removing the stigma that’s still far too often associated with addiction and prevents people from coming forward and getting what they need,” he said recently.
The Surgeon General’s office plans to reach out to practitioners and share information about the risks and benefits of opioids, and safer practices. The goal, Dr. Murthy said, is to help medical professionals treat pain effectively while minimizing the potential for addiction. He will also issue a report on substance abuse, addiction and health later this year-- the first on the topic since the office began issuing reports in 1964.
During a keynote speech at Health Journalism 2016 in April hosted by the Association of Health Care Journalists, Dr. Murthy said he hopes the report will persuade the public to view addiction “not as a moral failing, but as a chronic disease” that deserves the same treatment and compassion.
Approximately two-million Americans are addicted to opioids – a major gateway to heroin addiction and new HIV infections. The volume of drugs prescribed is four times greater than it was 15 years ago. Changing attitudes is another part of the Surgeon General’s plan to address opioid addiction. That calls for extensive public education and a concerted effort to dispel the stigma that surrounds addiction, Dr. Murthy added.