Today the U.S. Surgeon General released a first-of-its-kind report about addiction that shows how widely and deeply drug and alcohol misuse and abuse are impacting the nation’s health. In his preface, current Surgeon General Vivek Murthy hopes the report will have the same impact on addiction as the Surgeon General’s report 50 years ago did on the dangers of tobacco and smoking.
According to Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health, 20.8 million Americans currently struggle with substance misuse—greater than the number of people battling cancer. When factoring in the impact on family, friends, and the community, the report makes it clear that addiction is a national public health crisis—and one in need of a major shift in how it is addressed.
Many Face Addiction But Few Seek Help
Unlike most other diseases, substance abuse often comes with a deep stigma that prevents people from seeking help. The report estimates that only 10% of those suffering with addiction actually seek treatment. In response, the report calls for greater access to and better options for treatment services, improved public education to increase awareness, and research-informed public policies.
Substance Abuse a Big Hit on Nation’s Wallet
The report also estimates “that the yearly economic impact of substance misuse is $249 billion for alcohol misuse and $193 billion for illicit drug use”—for a combined total of $442 billion. In comparison, the economic impact of another prevelent health disease—diabetes—is estimated at $245 billion. These costs are tied to “lost workplace productivity (in part, due to premature mortality), health care expenses, law enforcement and other criminal justice costs (e.g., drug-related crimes), and losses from motor vehicle crashes.”
Alcohol Still Primary Concern
While disturbing spikes in drug-related overdoses and deaths have rightly drawn renewed attention to the problem of drug abuse, the report reinforces that alcohol is still America’s most used and abused substance.
Some key findings on alcohol:
- In 2015, 66.7 million people in the United States reported binge drinking in the past month and 27.1 million people were current users of illicit drugs or misused prescription drugs.
- Alcohol misuse contributes to 88,000 deaths in the United States each year; 1 in 10 deaths among working adults are due to alcohol misuse.
- About three quarters of the costs associated with alcohol use were due to binge drinking, and about 40% of those costs were paid by government, emphasizing the huge cost of alcohol misuse to taxpayers.
- The CDC reports more than 2,200 alcohol overdose deaths in the United States each year—an average of six deaths every day.
- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that [alcohol-related] DUI costs the United States more than $44 billion each year in prosecution, higher insurance rates, higher taxes, medical claims, and property damage.