The Surgeon General Has a Plan to Fix the Opioid Crisis

The Surgeon General Has a Plan to Fix the Opioid Crisis

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy released the nations first-ever “Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health” on November 16 that includes both alarming statistics and a plan to fix the nation’s opioid crisis. [1]

Dr. Vivek Murthy as Surgeon General. Source:

In the 413-page report, Murthy notes that 20 million Americans have substance abuse disorders – similar to the number of people who have diabetes – but only 10% ever get specialty treatments. He also points out that prescription painkillers and heroin now kill more than 74 Americans each day, making overdoses the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S.

Additionally, more people now use opioids than tobacco, and more people have substance abuse disorders than have cancer. To be specific, there are 1.5 times the number of people misusing painkillers than there are people battling cancer. [2]

Source: Boston Globe

It doesn’t matter how much money you have, what neighborhood you come from, your race, gender, or profession – substance abuse disorders don’t discriminate.

Plan to Fix the Opioid Problem Laid Out

But the Surgeon General lays out a plan in the report to fix the opioid crisis in America. That plan includes:

  • Expand access to medically assisted treatments (MAT), such as methadone and buprenorphine (Suboxone). Murthy isn’t convinced that abstinence-only programs are always the answer, and said “studies have repeatedly demonstrated the efficacy of MAT at reducing illicit drug use and overdose deaths.”
  • Knock it off with confrontational, TV-style interventions. Although these approaches were once the norm, the Surgeon General says that they “have not been found effective and may backfire by heightening resistance and diminishing self-esteem on the part of the targeted individual.”
  • Improve prevention efforts. The report states that many school and community intervention programs and strategies aren’t very effective, according to studies.
  • Fix the healthcare system. Murthy recommends combining mental and behavioral health services with substance abuse treatment – getting to the root of what is causing the addiction – and expanding insurance coverage to decrease the cost of rehab. [1]

How Will the Next Administration Handle It?

The federal government does not have to follow Murthy’s recommendations, and it’s not clear how any of these things will play out under Trump’s administration. The President-elect has sworn to “stop the flow of illegal drugs into the country” by deporting undocumented immigrants and putting the kibosh on illicit drug shipments from China. Vice President-elect Mike Pence has received much praise from Trump for increasing mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders.

All of Trump’s approaches are part of the failed war on drugs that the U.S. government has been waging for decades, and they stand in stark contrast to Murthy’s recommendations.

Read: How the War on Drugs Hurts Us All

Whether you love or hate the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), addiction treatment has been an essential health benefit of the program, which Trump has promised to repeal. However, the incoming President has also said he will take action to “dramatically expand access to treatment slots and end Medicaid policies that obstruct inpatient treatment.”

Under Obamacare, all insurance providers – including Medicaid – must cover all basic expenses of addiction treatment.

In October of 2016, Trump said:

“I would also expand incentives for states and local governments to use drug courts and mandated treatment. These can be a cost effective, appropriate, and humane response to addiction.”

Read: One Massachusetts City Opts to Put Addicts in Rehab Instead of Prison

When Trump takes office in January, he will undoubtedly replace Murthy with a new Surgeon General of his choosing, and Murthy offered some words of advice for his replacement:

“We need to invest more in expanding the scientific evidence base for prevention, treatment, and recovery. We must help everyone see that addiction is not a character flaw – it is a chronic illness that we must approach with the same skill and compassion with which we approach heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.”

Murthy said that opioids are a good example. He explained:

“Now we understand that these disorders actually change the circuitry in your brain. They affect your ability to make decisions, and change your reward system and your stress response. That tells us that addiction is a chronic disease of the brain, and we need to treat it with the same urgency and compassion that we do with any other illness.” [2]


[1] VICE News

[2] NPR

Boston Globe