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Surgeon General’s Report on Facing Addiction in America - A call for community action

Publication date

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

According to the recently released, Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health, more than twenty million Americans are addicted to illegal drugs and alcohol and only 10 percent are receiving treatment. A significant public health threat facing communities large and small throughout the nation, the report provides tools for medical providers to help patients struggling with drug or alcohol addiction and highlights communities that have brought partners together to tackle these issues.

According to the report, “To build effective, sustainable prevention across age groups and populations, communities should build cross-sector community coalitions which assess and prioritize local levels of risk and protective factors and substance misuse problems and select and implement evidence-based interventions matched to local priorities.”

State and local public awareness campaigns can help to educate the public about the dangers of substance abuse. For example, Kentucky and Utah have statewide campaigns that have promoted partnerships among schools, law enforcement agencies, and public health departments helping to ensure diverse messages are reaching a broad range of audiences.

In March, the 2016 County Health Rankings Key Findings Report found death rates from drug overdoses have increased by 79 percent nationwide since 2002, and deaths involving narcotics (opioid pain relievers and heroin) have tripled since 2000.  Among counties in the US, the average rate of drug overdose deaths is 13 per 100,000 people. See map below

One place implementing an innovative approach to address the high number of drug deaths in their community is 2016 RWJF Culture of Health Prize winner, Manchester, New Hampshire. The community came together when emergency responders began seeing 60 to 70 suspected overdoses each month. More than a half dozen of those were fatal, which represented a nearly 12-fold increase in the city’s overdose deaths between 2003 and 2015. In response to these soaring numbers, Manchester created an initiative called Safe Station. The city’s 10 fire stations have been turned into intake centers where people can come for help without fear of being arrested. Within the first four months of its May 2016 launch, more than 420 people were helped and referred to treatment. Learn more about the program here: https://youtu.be/418tzKA8JUQ

Communities can also visit What Works for Health to learn about other innovative strategies on this topic.