By Katharine Q. Seelye
Millions of Americans suffer from alcoholism or addiction to legal and illegal drugs, but only a fraction are being treated, according to a report released on Thursday by the surgeon general.
One in seven people in the United States is expected to develop a substance use disorder at some point, the report said. But as of now, only one in 10 will receive treatment.
The report is the first from a surgeon general to address substance use disorders and the wider range of health problems related to alcohol and drugs.
It calls for, among other things, a cultural change in understanding that addiction is a brain disease, not a character flaw.
“It’s time to change how we view addiction,” Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, the surgeon general, said in releasing the report. “Not as a moral failing but as a chronic illness that must be treated with skill, urgency and compassion. The way we address this crisis is a test for America.”
The report is intended to try to prompt the public, policy makers and health care professionals to better address these issues.
Those who work in the fields of addiction and recovery liken it to the landmark surgeon general reports of the 1950s and 1960s that said smoking caused lung cancer and led Congress in 1965 to require health warnings on cigarette packs.
But it is not clear that this report will be nearly as influential.
For one, at least one senator is calling it a “missed opportunity.”
“The deaths caused by prescription drug, heroin and fentanyl overdoses are growing exponentially every year, yet this report fails to provide any detailed road map for how best to curb opioid addiction,” Senator Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, said in a statement.
The magnitude of the opioid epidemic, he said, “demanded a far more detailed discussion.”
In addition, the report comes at the tail end of the Obama administration, which pleaded unsuccessfully with Congress this year for $1 billion to fight the opioid epidemic. Congress instead set aside $181 million, a move that a disappointed President Obama said was better than nothing.
And it comes as the incoming president, Donald J. Trump, prepares to appoint his own surgeon general and has his own ideas about how to combat the epidemic.