U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams called for a “cultural shift” in how Americans talk about opioid addiction, saying stigma is one of the leading reasons only one in four people with a problem get the treatment they need.
Dr. Adams said opioids were involved in 48,000 of the 72,000 drug-overdose deaths in the U.S. last year, yet polling suggests barely more than half of Americans consider the epidemic a “major concern.”
In a new “Spotlight” report, the Health and Human Services Department details ways families, doctors, educators and business leaders can open up about addiction or prevent it from taking hold in the first place.
For instance, it urges companies to reduce work-related injuries that could lead to opioid misuse and calls on family members to be “supportive (not judgmental)” in prodding an addicted loved one to get help. It also says family members should carry overdose-reversing naloxone.
Dr. Adams has tried to lead by example by talking about his younger brother, who cycled in and out of prison due to opioid misuse.
“I tell my family’s story because far too many are facing the same worries for their loved ones. We all ask the same question: How can I contribute to ending the opioid crisis and helping those suffering with addiction?” Dr. Adams said. “The first step is understanding that opioid use disorder is a chronic but treatable brain disease, and not a moral failing or character flaw. Like many other chronic medical conditions, opioid use disorder is both treatable, and in many cases, preventable.”
More people sought out medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder in 2017 than in 2016, though administration officials say gaps remain, due to stigma, the lack of affordable options or a refusal to stop using opioids.
President Trump, who declared drug-addiction a public health emergency, is encouraging people to share their stories though a White House website titled “The Crisis Next Door.” Congress is finalizing sweeping legislation that would expand Medicaid funding for drug-abuse treatment and assist infected mothers and their babies, who are sometimes born with withdrawal.