Overhaul of US drug policy is long overdue, expert says

March 9, 2017 by David Ruth, Rice University
Overhaul of US drug policy is long overdue, expert says
Credit: shutterstock.com/Rice University

A new report from the Office of the Surgeon General, "Facing Addiction in America," suggests that an overhaul of U.S. drug policy is long overdue, according to a new issue brief from a drug policy expert at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy.

The 's report is meant to be a call to action against the public health crisis of , according to the brief's author, Katharine Neill, the Baker Institute's Alfred C. Glassell III Postdoctoral Fellow in Drug Policy. It brings an authoritative voice to the current national debate over how to confront addiction in the face of rising rates of opioid-related overdoses and confirms what many observers have claimed—that addiction requires compassion and treatment, not punishment, she said.

"The strong endorsement from the surgeon general's office for integrated substance use care, expanded use of medication-assisted treatment and an overall public-health-based approach to addiction should send a clear message to policymakers and the public that an overhaul of U.S. is long overdue," Neill wrote.

The report is densely packed with troubling statistics that highlight the prevalence of alcohol and in the United States, Neill said. In 2015, 20.8 million people—nearly 8 percent of the U.S. population—met the criteria for a substance use disorder (SUD) involving alcohol or illicit substances. As the report states, roughly 88,000 deaths per year are alcohol-related. In 2015, more than 52,000 deaths were attributed to drug overdose, which has claimed more lives in recent years largely due to a rise in opioid misuse. Substance misuse and SUDs cost the United States roughly $400 billion annually in health care and criminal justice expenses and lost worker productivity.

Despite the heavy toll of substance misuse on individuals, families and society, only about 10 percent of people who need help with an SUD actually receive it, Neill said. "In the face of this crisis and based on a growing body of neurobiological evidence, the report argues that addiction is a chronic disease of the brain that should be treated more like diabetes and less like an act of criminal misconduct," Neill wrote.

Neill's brief, "Will the Surgeon General's Report on Addiction Change How We Treat Drug Users?", analyzes the major claims and implications of the report and proposes additional drug policy considerations for addressing substance use disorders."

"For all its admirable qualities, there are other areas in which the report falls short," Neill wrote. "It misses an opportunity to bring heroin-assisted treatment into the discussion of effective medication-assisted therapies for opioid use disorders. While it argues that addiction should not be criminalized, it stops short of supporting decriminalization of drug possession and maintains that legal sanctions can be an effective incentive for drug treatment, not dealing with the reality of how these sanctions might be used in practice and the collateral consequences that an individual faces if sanctions are enforced."

Neill said future efforts to address should frame neurobiological explanations of addiction more squarely within the context of environmental risk factors and should emphasize the need for social policies that address the underlying external causes of addiction.

"It is indeed time to change how we view drug addiction," Neill wrote. "Let's get it right this time—by acknowledging the many complexities of addiction and the need for a holistic policy response."

Explore further: Treat synthetic cannabinoids as public health issue, report says

Related Stories

Treat synthetic cannabinoids as public health issue, report says

March 3, 2017
A rise in the use of synthetic cannabinoids (syncans) in Houston has prompted law enforcement officials to target sellers and users of the drug. However, taking a public-health-based approach toward curbing the use of syncans, ...

New charts provide picture of drug use in the United States

August 15, 2016
An extensive and easy-to-use collection of charts that present findings from decades of government survey data of drug use in the United States is now available on the website of Rice University's Baker Institute for Public ...

Many patients receive prescription opioids during treatment for opioid addiction

February 23, 2017
More than two in five people receiving buprenorphine, a drug commonly used to treat opioid addiction, are also given prescriptions for other opioid painkillers - and two-thirds are prescribed opioids after their treatment ...

US needs harm-reduction approach to drug use, researcher says

January 14, 2015
The United States' law-and-order approach to reducing the supply of drugs and punishing sellers and users has impeded the development of a public health model that views drug addiction as a disease that is preventable and ...

Patients with opioid addiction benefit from treatment initiated in ED

February 14, 2017
Patients addicted to opioids often seek care in the emergency department (ED). They are more likely to receive addiction treatment, and reduce opioid use long-term if they are started on medication to reduce cravings in the ...

Pediatric workforce must address opioid crisis

October 3, 2016
In late August, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) called on providers who care for youth to offer the same treatments routinely offered to adults - including medications like buprenorphine (commonly known by its brand ...

Recommended for you

Novel botulinum toxin compound relieves chronic pain

July 18, 2018
A modified form of botulinum toxin gives long-lasting pain relief in mice without adverse effects and, in time, could replace opioid drugs as a safe and effective way of treating chronic pain, according to research by UCL, ...

FDA recalls heart medication valsartan, citing cancer concerns

July 17, 2018
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a voluntary recall of several medications that contain the active ingredient valsartan, which is used to treat high blood pressure and heart failure.

Opioids given too easily to children: study

July 16, 2018
(HealthDay)—Many children are prescribed powerful opioid painkillers they don't really need, putting them and those around them at risk, a new study shows.

Study reveals opioid patients face multiple barriers to treatment

July 12, 2018
In areas of the country disproportionately affected by the opioid crisis, treatment programs are less likely to accept patients paying through insurance of any type or accept pregnant women, a new Vanderbilt study found.

Report details possible conflict of interest issues for FDA advisors

July 6, 2018
Charles Piller, a contributing correspondent for the journal Science, has published a Feature piece in the journal detailing what he describes as possible conflicts of interest issues by people who serve as advisors to the ...

Opioid epidemic responses overlook gender

July 5, 2018
Yale health experts warn that current efforts to confront the growth of opioid addiction and overdose deaths must better incorporate an understanding of how women fit into this epidemic.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.