UNPRECEDENTED SURGEON GENERAL’S REPORT ON ALCOHOL, DRUGS AND HEALTH
In the United States, the Surgeon General has released a sweeping report, entitled “Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health.”
The 428-page report is the first ever Surgeon General report on the topic and is an examination of the impact alcohol and other drug use has on American society. In releasing the report, the Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, MD, MBA serving as America’s doctor, cited the societal costs of addiction: $249 billion for alcohol harm and $193 billion for illicit drug use.
Alcohol and drug addiction takes an enormous toll on individuals, families, and communities.
Most Americans know someone who has been touched by an alcohol or a drug use disorder. Yet 90% of people with a substance use disorder are not getting treatment. That has to change.”
— U.S. Surgeon General (@Surgeon_General) November 17, 2016
Alcohol policy works. Prevention works
The report covers the science of the disease; prevention strategies; intervention, treatment and recovery and includes recommendations for actions to promote recovery.
The report reviews what we know about substance misuse and how that knowledge can and should be used to address substance misuse and related consequences. It outlines for example which effective policy interventions exist and that they are cost-effective and impactufl:
Well-supported scientific evidence demonstrates that a variety of prevention programs and alcohol policies that address these predictors prevent substance initiation, harmful use, and substance use-related problems, and many have been found to be cost-effective. These programs and policies are effective at different stages of the lifespan, from infancy to adulthood, suggesting that it is never too early and never too late to prevent substance misuse and related problems.”
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The report is unequivocal about the fact that well-supported scientific evidence shows that federal, state, and community-level policies designed to reduce alcohol availability and increase the costs of alcohol have immediate, positive benefits in reducing alcohol use and binge alcohol intake, as well as the resulting harms, such as motor vehicle crashes and fatalities.
Prevention programs and policies that are based on sound evidence-based principles have been shown to reduce substance use and related harms significantly. Embedding prevention, treatment, and recovery services into the larger health care system will increase access to care, improve quality of services, and produce improved outcomes for countless Americans.
For all its achievements, the Surgeon General also exposes a glaring misjudgment in his report. In attempting to make specific suggestions for “key stakeholders”, the report also addresses the role of the alcohol industry. Instead of following the evidence and the track record of the alcohol industry, the Surgeon General attempts to outline two areas where alcohol producers could contribute: promote responsible use and support youth substance use prevention.
This is ill-advised because the alcohol industry relies for major parts of their profits on heavy alcohol users; and because the alcohol industry continues to aggressively target children and young people, often glamorizing alcohol use. Evidence also shows the conflict of interest in alcohol producers being involved in alcohol use prevention.