Letter: Work together to fight substance abuse

From: Nicki Vreeland


One in seven Americans faces substance addiction. There are currently more Americans with substance addiction than with all cancers combined. Of all these people struggling with addiction, only one in 10 has access to treatment. The costs of addiction are similar to those associated with other serious health problems. The impact to our community is great, in the amount of people who are struggling and the financial concerns these diseases add to our community as whole.

The surgeon general of the United States has just released the first “Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health.” The report calls for a comprehensive approach to address substance use problems that should include these key components:

  • Enhanced public education to improve awareness about the problem.
  • Widespread implementation of evidence-based programs to prevent addiction.
  • Improved access to services integrated with mainstream health care for those at risk or affected by substance use.
  • Recovery support services.
  • Public policies and financing strategies to ensure that services are accessible, compassionate, efficient and sustainable.

Just as we screen for diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, we should screen for substance use disorders. If we respond in this way, there is a great chance early interventions can be used to stop the addiction process before the disorder becomes complex, chronic and difficult to treat. Also, seeing substance use disorders as the disease they are lessens the stigma and brings more community awareness and acceptance to treatment and the need for support in recovery.

To quote Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, “For too long, too many in our country have viewed addiction as a moral failing. … We must help everyone see that addiction is not a character flaw. It is a chronic illness that we must approach with the same skill and compassion with which we approach heart disease, diabetes and cancer. If only one in 10 people with heart disease or diabetes could receive care and treatment, we would go to great lengths to add services, improve existing services and encourage people to actively pursue recovery. We need to view substance addiction in this way, to improve life for individuals, our community and the country.”

Recent community events highlighting local efforts include the Desperate Households Conference, a Youth Worker Café event and coverage on an Indianapolis TV station about the NARCAN pilot with Columbus Regional Hospital Emergency Department and Centerstone. It will take all of us working together to make progress on substance abuse in our community.