Surgeon General Vivek Murthy

An extensive report on addiction in America has just been released by the United States Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy.

The first-ever Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health discusses the severity of drug and alcohol addiction in the U.S., calling for sweeping reform in health care and criminal justice policies relating to addiction.

There are also several brief mentions of SMART Recovery throughout the report, demonstrating how far the program has come in the public and political sphere during it’s relatively short 20-year history.


Executive Summary of report

In 2015, over 27 million people in the United States reported current use of illicit drugs or misuse of prescription drugs, and over 66 million people (nearly a quarter of the adult and adolescent population) reported binge drinking in the past month. Alcohol and drug misuse and related disorders are major public health challenges that are taking an enormous toll on individuals, families, and society. Neighbourhoods and communities as a whole are also suffering as a result of alcohol- and drug-related crime and violence, abuse and neglect of children, and the increased costs of health care associated with substance misuse. It is estimated that the yearly economic impact of substance misuse is $249 billion for alcohol misuse and $193 billion for illicit drug use.

Despite the social and economic costs, this is a time of great opportunity. Ongoing health care and criminal justice reform efforts, as well as advances in clinical, research, and information technologies are creating new opportunities for increased access to effective prevention and treatment services. This Report reflects our commitment to leverage these opportunities to drive improvements in individual and public health related to substance misuse, use disorder, and related health consequences.

Most Americans know someone with a substance use disorder, and many know someone who has lost or nearly lost a family member as a consequence of substance misuse. Yet, at the same time, few other medical conditions are surrounded by as much shame and misunderstanding as substance use disorders. Historically, our society has treated addiction and misuse of alcohol and drugs as symptoms of moral weakness or as a wilful rejection of societal norms, and these problems have been addressed primarily through the criminal justice system. Our health care system has not given the same level of attention to substance use disorders as it has to other health concerns that affect similar numbers of people. Substance use disorder treatment in the United States remains largely segregated from the rest of health care and serves only a fraction of those in need of treatment. Only about 10 percent of people with a substance use disorder receive any type of specialty treatment. Further, over 40 percent of people with a substance use disorder also have a mental health condition, yet fewer than half (48.0 percent) receive treatment for either disorder.

Many factors contribute to this “treatment gap,” including the inability to access or afford care, fear of shame and discrimination, and lack of screening for substance misuse and substance use disorders in general health care settings. Further, about 40 percent of individuals who know they have an alcohol or drug problem are not ready to stop using, and many others simply feel they do not have a problem or a need for treatment—which may partly be a consequence of the neurobiological changes that profoundly affect the judgment, motivation, and priorities of a person with a substance use disorder.”


SMART Recovery earns various mentions

When discussing the notion of ‘recovery’ and how it’s specific can vary across cultures and communities. The Surgeon General noted that within some communities, recovery is aligned with a particular religion or is seen as a “spiritual” process, whereas SMART Recovery, among other bodies, view recovery as an entirely secular process.

When talking about how few mutual aid groups other than AA had been evaluated, The Surgeon General cited SMART Recovery as an exception, pointing to a 2013 clinical trial led by Reid Hester and published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. “Patients in treatment for “heavy drinking” were randomly assigned to receive face-to-face SMART Recovery meetings or to an online SMART Recovery meeting.” The results displayed both groups showed approximately equal rates of recovery.

SMART Recovery Australia will launch online SMART Recovery meetings in early 2017.


Conclusion bodes well for SMART Recovery

The Conclusion of the report’s Executive Summary advocates for an “evidence-based public health approach”, a position SMART Recovery firmly resides in.

The Surgeon General writes:

“By adopting an evidence-based public health approach, America has the opportunity to take genuinely effective steps to prevent and treat substance-related issues. Such an approach can prevent substance initiation or escalation from use to a disorder, and thus reduce the number of people suffering with addiction; it can shorten the duration of illness for sufferers; and it can reduce the number of substance-related deaths.”

General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health



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