On Thursday morning, the Surgeon General made headlines across the nation when he released his new report highlighting the problem of substance use addiction across the country. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, M.D., released the Report, Facing Addiction in America, in the hope that his report will have some of the same impact that past Surgeon General reports have had on cigarette smoking and the recognition of HIV AIDS. The Surgeon General said, “the reason I’m issuing this report is I want to call our country to action around what has become a pressing public health issue. I want our country to understand the magnitude of this crisis I’m not sure everyone does.”

The report indicates that drug addiction, mainly the opioid epidemic, has killed more than 500,000 people since the year 2000. It also points out that substance abuse disorders affect 20.8 million people in the United States.  The report and the Surgeon General highlight that that figure equals the number of people with diabetes and is 1 1/2 times as many as those with cancer.  Despite this only one in 10 people receive treatment.  General Murthy went on to say that “we would never tolerate a situation where only one in 10 people with cancer or diabetes gets treatment and yet we do that with substance abuse disorders.”

Within child welfare the impact of the opioid-heroin epidemic has been clear with a significant increase in the number of children entering foster care.  Foster care placements have increased to 427,000 as of 2015 approximately an 8% increase from four years earlier. In publishing the most recent data HHS released a statement that said,

“…interviewed child welfare directors in states experiencing the highest increase in foster care numbers, and state officials informed ACYF what the data suggest: a rise in parental substance use is likely a major factor driving up the number of children in foster homes. Citing opioid and methamphetamine use as the most debilitating and prevalent substances used, some state officials expressed concern that the problem of substance use is straining their child welfare agencies.

State child welfare directors also emphasized that recent trends in substance abuse are sometimes affecting entire families and neighborhoods, making a child’s placement with relatives an unviable option. Increased collaboration across service providers and community leaders will be necessary to address this rising challenge.”

The Surgeon General’s report holds out hope in addressing the ongoing challenge.  He pointed out that there are many prevention programs that are effective, improving and they need to be used.  He also said the treatment can be effective. Relapse rates are comparable to those seen among people with other chronic diseases it can take a year abstinence before a person enters remission for people trying to recover from an alcohol abuse disorder he can take four or five years before the chance of relapse drops to 15%.