Surgeon General: EHRs, mHealth, evidence-based medicine crucial to fighting addiction

Calling addiction the biggest U.S. health concern, Vivek Murthy, MD, says it should be seen as a chronic disease and treated as such.
By Jessica Davis
02:45 PM

The biggest public health concern in the U.S. is addiction, said Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, in a massive report released Thursday. In it, he outlines the severity of substance abuse in the country, likens addiction to chronic disease and outlines how each healthcare stakeholder can work toward combatting the growing problem.

About 27 million Americans suffer with addiction problems - which includes alcohol, drug and prescription misuse and substance use disorders - and another 66 million partake in binge drinking, according to the report.

Further, 78 people die each day from opioid overdose. Murthy said despite these staggering numbers only 10 percent of these people seek treatment.

Key health IT components can address this 'treatment gap:' implementation of evidence-based prevention interventions, further use of Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs, integration of behavioral health and general healthcare and the implementation of electronic health records, patient registries, computer-based educational systems and mobile applications.

"Use of Health IT is expanding to support greater communication and collaboration among providers, fostering better integrated and collaborative care, while at the same time protecting patient privacy," Murthy said in the report.

"It also has the potential for expanding access to care, extending the workforce, improving care coordination, reaching individuals who are resistant to engaging in traditional treatment settings and providing outcomes and recovery monitoring," he added.

Drug abuse costs $193 billion annually, while alcohol abuse has an economic impact of a staggering $249 billion, the report found.

Research on the neurobiology of substance abuse and addiction have revealed the impact on prevention methods, treatments and the crucial role of healthcare systems of addressing substance abuse disorders, the report said. However, there are a great deal of misconceptions and social stigmas around drug abuse.

"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," Murthy said.

"Current health reform efforts and recent advances in technology are playing a crucial role in moving toward an effective public health-based model for addressing substance misuse and its consequences," he added. "But the healthcare system cannot address all of the major determinants of health related to substance misuse without the help of the wider community."

Murthy said he hopes the report will get the ball rolling for a culture shift on drug abuse, while destigmatizing addiction for it to be considered a chronic disease.

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