using an illicit drug in the past month. Of these, 3.8 percent of men and 2 percent of women met the diagnostic criteria for a substance use disorder in the past year.
The costs associated with substance use disorders are spread across workplace productivity, health care expenses, law enforcement/criminal justice, and losses from vehicle accidents. DUI-related costs in the U.S., for example, amounted to roughly $44 billion a year in prosecution, insurance rates, taxes, medical claims and property damage.
The Surgeon General’s report advocated a public health approach to lower the burden of substance use disorders on the economy.
“Embedding prevention, treatment, and recovery services into the larger health care system will increase access to care, improve quality of services, and produce improved outcomes for countless Americans,” the report stated.
Evidence-based interventions could have a benefit of more than $58 for every $1 spent, and every dollar spent on treating substance use disorder could save $4 in health care costs and $7 in costs related to criminal justice, the report stated.
Early intervention is another type of service advocated by the Surgeon General. These services are geared toward reducing harms, reducing risk behaviors, and prevent the progression from abuse to a disorder. The report states that people who binge drink, people who abuse substances while driving, and women who abuse substances while pregnant are most likely to benefit from early intervention programs.
“Available research shows that brief, early interventions … can educate and motivate many individuals who are misusing substances to understand and acknowledge their risky behavior and to reduce their substance use,” the report states.
Addressing addiction as a public health issue will require a cultural shift in the way people think about addiction. The stigma associated with addiction is similar to the stigmas that were once associated with cancer and HIV, which were driven by fear and judgment. However, Americans are more accepting of cancer and HIV as medical conditions.
A public health approach to substance use disorders with the goal of reducing disparities goes hand-in-hand with the economic benefits.
“Now is the time to make this change, for the health and well-being of all Americans,” the report stated.