Posted By Hope Alfaro On January 17, 2017
Recently, the surgeon general published a report on the state of substance use disorders, a topic that before the past year had never been discussed by a surgeon general in the context of healthcare. The report provides a much-needed viewpoint on the nature of substance use disorders, an increasingly visible problem in behavioral and mental health. Substance abuse is a problem that amounts to an estimated $420 Billion of costs in health care, productivity loss, and the criminal justice system combined, annually. Until relatively recently, substance abuse was viewed as a standalone problem resulting from personal choice and not a legitimate medical condition needing treatment.
The surgeon general’s report on addiction is unprecedented because it examines substance abuse as it pertains to other greater medical and behavioral health problems. We wrote previously on the importance of recognizing mental health as part of overall health and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) move to improve the integration of the two. The inclusion of mental health and substance use disorder services in the Affordable Care Act further shows the importance placed on treating substance use disorders as a public health issue inasmuch as a personal health issue.
Medical conditions commonly associated with substance abuse include kidney-related issues, heart disease, fetal alcohol syndrome or infant opioid dependence, cancer, hypertension, and chronic bronchitis, among others. But these problems don’t fully account for indirect social consequences of substance abuse, such as reduced worker productivity, higher healthcare costs, unintended pregnancies, drug-related crime, poverty and homelessness, interpersonal violence, and familial stress.
Despite the gravity of the report and the issues it tackles, there are a lot of good reasons to feel optimistic about the future for substance use disorders and the healthcare system. As technology improves, so do healthcare provider’s ability to treat patients as a whole and not in independent facilities. Many Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) as well as Public Health departments are able to provide some level of behavioral health and substance use disorder treatment at their centers. Research has overwhelmingly proven addiction to be a physiological condition, making it a genuine problem in the public eye deserving of medical intervention. Healthcare reform efforts are enabling paths to substance abuse treatment that have not been available before. And finally, the criminal justice system continues to slowly warm up to the idea of treatment and harm-reduction over incarceration for nonviolent offenders.
Behavioral Health has increasingly been brought up in political discussions of healthcare and treatment and will continue to be on the forefront for any new legislation created concerning public health. Along with the innovations in healthcare technology, including electronic medical records suited for both behavioral and medical healthcare, this year can indicate a turning point in substance abuse and addiction in the United States.
For more information, see the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of the Surgeon General, Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health.