Message from the Surgeon General


Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, MD, MBA calls America's opioid epidemic the new health crisis of our generation.  (see Dr. VIvek's letter below)

This growing problem that plagues millions of Americans causes more than 1,000 emergency room visits, killing 78 people every day.  In 2014, 2 million Americans abused over dependent on prescription drugs

"We have over 1 million people who need treatment and can't get it."  In his August 2016 letter to 2.3 million health practitioners (Drs, nurses, dentists), he invites them to come together and be part of the solution

Opioids are "one of our greatest public health threats, and it's one that we have to respond to with speed and with urgency." 

A campaign to end opioid abuse called "Turning the Tide " is trying to 1) tighten opioid prescribing practices, 2) increase addiction screening, and 3) destigmatize addiction and treatment

"We need to change how we think about addiction.  For far too long addiction has carried too much stigma with it. It has been looked at as a moral failing, as a character flaw, but that is not true. Addiction is a chronic disease of the brain and we need to treat it with the same urgency, the same skill, and the same compassion that we would any other illness. Clinicians do not want to do harm to their patients. I encounter people who want to do better, who see a crisis in front of them, and often are wondering what they can do to help address it. So clinicians are eager to help, and we want them to be part of the solution. That's one of the purposes of our letter."

"Many states are starting to pass laws requiring that physicians use prescription drug monitoring programs. These are tools which can help doctors understand the risk in prescribing opiates to the patients. We also see more doctors stepping up to the plate to sharpen their prescribing practices, as they understand what it is that they have to do."

"I'll tell you personally that when I look at problems, whether it's opioids or others, we have a tendency in our country to look to blame first without thinking about how to constructively bring people together to be part of the solution. This is our opportunity to bring people together around the country, not just clinicians, but policy makers and parents and people throughout our community to understand how they can help us address this epidemic."

"What I want to see us do as a country is to invest early, is to make sure we are focusing on prevention whenever possible. It's a mindset shift."    (America's New Epidemic, Surgeon General on crusade against opioid abuse, CBS news, Augusts 25, 2016)

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Dr. Murthy's letter to 2.3 million health practitioners:

August 2016

Dear Colleague,

I am asking for your help to solve an urgent health crisis facing America: the opioid epidemic. Everywhere I travel, I see communities devastated by opioid overdoses. I meet families too ashamed to seek treatment for addiction. And I will never forget my own patient whose opioid use disorder began with a course of morphine after a routine procedure.

It is important to recognize that we arrived at this place on a path paved with good intentions. Nearly two decades ago, we were encouraged to be more aggressive about treating pain, often without enough training and support to do so safely. This coincided with heavy marketing of opioids to doctors. Many of us were even taught – incorrectly – that opioids are not addictive when prescribed for legitimate pain.

The results have been devastating. Since 1999, opioid overdose deaths have quadrupled and opioid prescriptions have increased markedly – almost enough for every adult in America to have a bottle of pills. Yet the amount of pain reported by Americans has not changed. Now, nearly two million people in America have a prescription opioid use disorder, contributing to increased heroin use and the spread of HIV and hepatitis C.

I know solving this problem will not be easy. We often struggle to balance reducing our patients’ pain with increasing their risk of opioid addiction. But, as clinicians, we have the unique power to help end this epidemic. As cynical as times may seem, the public still looks to our profession for hope during difficult moments.

That is one of those times. That is why I am asking you to pledge your commitment to turn the tide on the opioid crisis.  Together, we will build a national movement of clinicians to do three things.

First, we will educate ourselves to treat pain safely and effectively. A good place to start is the enclosed pocket card with the CDC Opioid Prescribing Guideline. Second, we will screen our patients for opioid use disorder and provide or connect them with evidence-based treatment. Third, we can shape how the rest of the country sees addiction by talking about and treating it as a chronic illness, not a moral failing.

Years from now, I want us to look back and know that, in the face of a crisis that threatened our nation, it was our profession that stepped up and led the way. I know we can succeed, because health care is more than an occupation to us. It is a calling rooted in empathy, science, and service to humanity. These values unite us. They remain our greatest strength.

Thank you for your leadership.
Dr. Vivek H. Murthy
Statistics
  • As the number of prescriptions for opioid pain relievers increase, so do the number of deaths from opioid overdose. In 2014 alone, there were nearly 240 million prescriptions dispensed for opioids. In the same year, more than 14,000 people died from overdose of those drugs.