Millions of Americans are victims of alcoholism or addiction to other legal and illegal substances, but unfortunately, only a fraction of them receives professional treatment, said a recent report by Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, Vice Admiral, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Addiction has thus emerged as a major public health challenge in the U.S. Apart from the rising health care costs, addiction is known to cause a significant increase in crime, violence, marital strife, abuse and neglect of children.
For a long time now, the American society has been associating abuse and addiction with moral failure and resorted to the criminal justice system, without addressing the underlying causes that have led individuals to this menace, said the surgeon general’s report. Additionally, mental health does not receive the same level of attention as given to other physical health issues, isolating it from the rest of the health care system.
“We need to shift the way our society thinks about substance misuse and substance use disorders while defining actions we can take to prevent and treat these conditions,” said Murthy.
Apart from financial constraints due to high treatment costs, several other factors, such as fear of shame and discrimination and lack of screening facilities for substance use disorders in public health centers, also contribute to the treatment gap. Further, 40 percent of those who are aware of their substance dependence problem are not willing to discontinue its use, whereas the rest feel that they do not have any such problem. Experts attribute such a resistance to neurobiological changes that significantly impair judgment, motivation and priorities of an individual with a substance use disorder.
Opportunities in the midst of national crisis
It is important to understand the gravity of the situation and employ science-based public health approach to tackle substance use disorders. Here are some best-known strategies to prevent and treat issues related to substance abuse:
Increase in knowledge: An extensive research into different types of substance-related issues has led to the discovery of fact-based evidence and thrown more light on myths that associated addiction to moral weakness.
State collaboration in mental health programs: Addiction is a chronic, yet treatable, brain disorder requiring professional counseling and medical treatment. Many governmental policies and programs are in place to deal with the crisis.
Easy access to professional care: Increased knowledge has resulted in effective evidence-based treatment options, consisting of either medications or behavioral therapies, or a combination of both, to wean off patients from drugs and to reduce the negative effects of withdrawal.
Support services and aid groups Mutual aid groups and associations of likeminded people go a long way helping individuals with addiction problem to stay sober after recovery in a confidential and friendly environment.
Health care reforms: Health insurance companies are required to cover costs related to mental health and substance use disorders’ treatment, which include behavioral health treatment, without any limitations on the benefits.
Incentives in health care sector: New incentive-based reforms in the health care sector have been introduced to control costs, ensure positive outcomes and fully integrate drug treatment and rehabilitation with general health care to benefit those who are suffering from such disorders.
Reforms in criminal justice system: Efforts are being made to send non-violent drug offenders to rehabs for treatment, instead of prison, to ensure that they return to the mainstream society as normal and sober individuals after recovery.
Substance addiction is treatable
According to Kana Enomoto, Principal Deputy Administrator, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “Substance misuse is one of the critical public health problems of our time. There is an urgent need to raise awareness about the issue.”