For almost two decades the United States has suffered from its worst addiction crisis ever. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention labeled the problem a full-on epidemic in 2012, increasing threat levels across the country from crisis-level to epidemic-level. Then, in 2017, President Trump labeled the opiate epidemic a National Public Health Emergency, the first of its kind. Now, the U.S. Surgeon General is reporting that the addiction problem has grown so risky and so severe than it outmatches the growing cancer problem.
When the surgeon general tackled the smoking problem in the 1960s, it was to increase nationwide awareness of the risks of tobacco, risks that we are all quite cognizant of today. Recently, the Surgeon General released similar findings on the subject of substance abuse, information that all Americans need to be made aware of. This report put addiction into perspective, pointing out the real risks involved with substance abuse, and why addiction to drugs and alcohol is the single greatest health risk our nation faces at this time.
According to the surgeon general’s report, more people use prescription opioid drugs than those who use tobacco. There are more Americans who suffer from a substance abuse habit than cancer. Twenty percent of the American population engages in binge drinking. Substance abuse is the most expensive health problem our country currently faces, hitting a price tag of four-hundred and twenty-billion dollars every year. More than twenty-four million Americans are addicted to drugs and alcohol.
We can see that just based off of the numbers alone, substance abuse is now a bigger problem than cancer is. There are almost twice as many drug addicts and alcoholics in the U.S. as there are cancer patients. And that does not even account for the numbers of Americans who binge drink, who occasionally do drugs, and who are at risk for developing a substance abuse problem. That is simply the sheer number of people who are actively hooked on drugs and alcohol.
And then, of course, there is the effect that drug users and alcoholics have on the country that cancer patients do not have. Drug addicts and alcoholics are damaging to the workforce, damaging to themselves; they lie, cheat, steal, murder, and commit a wide range of other crimes. Not all drug addicts and alcoholics are criminals, but almost all criminals are drug abusers or alcohol misusers, per the Bureau of Justice and Crime Statistics.
According to the Surgeon General, we still do not invest nearly the resources into drug and alcohol addiction as we do into cancer and diabetes. That has to change because drug abuse and alcoholism actually poses a greater risk to our nation in not only the sheer number of people affected but also in the severe amount of collateral damage that such individuals impose upon their immediate environments. It is flawed that we have not yet taken a more positive, decisive stance in addressing addiction, considering the threats this problem poses to our nation.
According to the surgeon general’s report, the primary reason why addiction is still not treated with the level of attention and insistence that it deserves is purely a result of our erroneous, dated thinking in regards to substance abuse. To this day, the majority of Americans still view drug abuse and alcoholism as a poor lifestyle choice, a weakness of one’s morality and integrity, a moral choice and criminal inclination, not a mind-numbing affliction or unbreakable habit which is what it actually is.
The truth about addiction is that it is far more serious, controlling, and unbreakable than we would like to believe. Addicts are completely at the whim of their dependence habits, whether they are making criminal decisions in the process or not. Addicts need help and treatment. This is not a problem that one can “incarcerate away” or “punish away.”
We need to change our perspective and adopt a correct view of substance abuse. We need to organize our efforts in addressing substance abuse from a method of treatment and rehabilitation, not punishment, incarceration, or being ostracized from society. Addiction is not a problem that will fix itself that we can just ignore. We need to work together as a nation to treat and rehabilitate drug addicts. The surgeon general has long since seen this as the necessary approach, and it is time the rest of us see it that way.