Substance abuse is becoming much more than a rarity, within the past few years it has become a true public health crisis. Dr. Vivek Murthy, U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and U.S. surgeon general, has released a report on the dependency and abuse of both legal and illegal drugs. Per year, nearly 21 million Americans face a substance use disorder. They are functionally impaired and become dependent on a drug. In the past year, 12.5 million people have misused prescription pain relievers, 67 million had participated in binge drinking within the past month, and 48 million people were using illegal drugs or misusing prescribed drugs. It is safe to say that the abuse of any drug, legal or illegal, has truly become an epidemic. In 2014 alone, nearly 48,000 people died due to drug overdose, and over 50% of those deaths were due to opioid use/abuse.
Sadly enough, out of all of the people facing addiction in our country, only 1 in 10 will acquire treatment. The surgeon general’s report suggests that our country’s alcohol and drug policy needs a serious change. The nation should implement a clinical/public health approach to this epidemic, rather than a criminal justice approach. Awareness is our #1 tool as of right now, and deeming addicts as criminals is not going to help. Judging people for their substance abuse disorders will not fix anything, and it will be in our nation’s best interest to treat addiction the way it should be treated—as a disease.