Substance Abuse 'A Major Public Health Challenge'


Women at the Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo: EthicsDaily.com)

Substance abuse is "a major public health challenge," according to "The Surgeon General's Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health."

Substance abuse or misuse is "the use of alcohol or drugs in a manner, situation, amount or frequency that could cause harm to the user or to those around them."

Key findings in the report include:

  • 7 million binge drank in the past month.
  • 1 million misused prescription pain relievers or used illicit drugs in the past month.
  • 20 million have a substance abuse disorder.
  • 78 people per day die from opioid overdose.
  • 88,000 people per year die from alcohol misuse.

"Despite decades of expense and effort focused on a criminal justice-based model for addressing substance use-related problems, substance misuse remains a national public health crisis that continues to rob the United States of its most valuable asset: its people," the report stated.

Several interviewees in "Through the Door," EthicsDaily.com's documentary on the faith community's positive impact on the criminal justice system, highlighted the negative impact of substance abuse on society.

"The majority of our clients are people who have substance abuse problems," said Anthony Metcalf of Churches Embracing Offenders, an Indiana re-entry program for nonviolent offenders.

"If you had to choose one element of why people are in prison at the rates they're in today, drug addiction, drug abuse is it," said William Gupton, then assistant commissioner of rehabilitative services for the Tennessee Department of Correction.

Six recommendations to shift from a criminal justice-based model were set forth in the surgeon general's report, including "highly effective community-based prevention programs and policies [that] exist and should be widely implemented."

"Parents, schools, health care systems, faith communities and social service organizations should be involved in delivering comprehensive, evidence-based community prevention programs that are sustained over time," the report explained.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy called the current situation "a moral test for America."

"Are we a nation willing to take on an epidemic that is causing great human suffering and economic loss? Are we able to live up to that most fundamental obligation we have as human beings: to care for one another?" he asked.

The full report is available here.

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Tags: Criminal Justice, EthicsDaily Staff, Prisons, Substance Abuse, Through the Door


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