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U.S. Surgeon General Wants to #TurnTheTide on the Nation’s Opioid Epidemic


“We have to stop treating addiction as a moral failing, and start seeing it for what it is: a chronic disease that must be treated with urgency and compassion,” said U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, M.D., kicking off his #TurnTheTide public awareness campaign calling on health care providers to end the nation’s opioid crisis.

“I think this is one of our greatest public health threats and it’s one that we have to respond to with speed and with urgency,” Dr. Murthy told CBS This Morning recently.

Dr. Murthy is taking the unprecedented step of mailing letters to the 2.3 million prescribers in America, urging them to do three things.

“Number one is to sharpen their prescribing practices, to make sure that we are treating pain safely and effectively. Number two, it’s to connect people to treatment who need it, and right now we have a major treatment gap in this country that we have to close,” Dr. Murthy said. “But the third is we’re asking clinicians to help us change how our country thinks about addiction.”

From health care practitioners with inadequate training and tools, to pharmaceutical companies who aggressively market pain medications and to policy makers who do little to increase funding or treatment programs, Dr. Murthy said “all of us have had a role to play” and called for all members of the community to be a part of the solution.

The impact of the opioid crisis cuts across racial/ethnic groups, age, sex, geography, and socioeconomic status. Forty-four percent of Americans say they personally know someone who has been addicted to prescription painkillers. Here are some facts about the opioid crisis:

  • 78 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.
  • In 2014, more than 10 million people in the United States reported using prescription opioids for nonmedical reasons, and close to 2 million people older than 12 years met diagnostic criteria for a substance use disorder involving prescription opioids.
  • There has been quadrupling of prescriptions for opioids since 1999, but there has not been an overall change in the amount of pain that Americans report.
  • As many as 1-in-4 patients receiving long-term opioid therapy in a primary care setting struggles with addiction.

The Medical Association of the State of Alabama and our multi-industry coalition of 22 partners launched Smart & Safe to encourage the safe use, storage and disposal of prescription medication…specifically prescription pain medication. The State of Alabama continues to face an epidemic with the abuse of prescription pain medications. Statistics show 1-in-4 Americans struggle with an addiction to prescription pain medications.

“Our mission with Smart & Safe is to educate our public on the safe use of prescription medications,” said David Herrick, M.D., president of the Medical Association. “Recent studies indicate most first-time prescription drug abusers get their drugs from a family member or friend. Our hope is that education through our Smart & Safe program will create enough awareness to save lives.”

According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, prescription drug abuse is a significant threat to Alabama’s public health. The number of deaths due to drug overdose, including prescription drugs resulted in the deaths of 762 residents between 2010 and 2014. In 2014, there were 221 deaths due to drug overdoses.

Smart & Safe is Alabama’s only physician-led public awareness campaign sponsored by the Medical Association of the State of Alabama and our partners dedicated to fighting Alabama’s prescription drug abuse epidemic through safe use, storage and disposal of pain medication.

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