Landmark U.S. Surgeon General Report Lends Medical Weight to Addiction Fight as Illinois Retreats from Battlefield

spr_capitol_v2(Springfield, IL) – While a new, groundbreaking Surgeon General’s report finds alcohol and drug misuse and severe substance use disorders, commonly called addiction, to be one of America’s most pressing public health fights, Illinois is in a full financial retreat from the addiction battlefield.

“It’s time to change how we view addiction,” said U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy on November 17, 2016. “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.”

Nearly 21 million Americans – more than the number of people who have all cancers combined – suffer from substance use disorders. Of those, approximately 845,201 are in Illinois.

The report, Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health, marks the first time a U.S. Surgeon General has dedicated a report to substance misuse and related disorders.

By issuing the first-ever report on addiction, the Surgeon General has lent the weight of “medical opinion” to the classification of substance use disorders as a health care issue, according to a top Illinois behavioral healthcare advocacy group.

“The Office of Surgeon General has for the first time recognized that addiction is a chronic health care issue whose treatment must be addressed on an equal footing with other chronic health care issues, such as diabetes, hypertension, etc.,” said Illinois Association of Behavioral Health CEO Sara Moscato Howe. “Unfortunately, in Illinois, the state’s financial commitment to fight addiction has floundered.”

Gateway Foundation of Illinois President & CEO, Dr. Thomas P. Britton also hailed the report.

“The US Surgeon General’s recent report is a reminder of how many lives substance abuse impacts each day,” Britton said. “It’s never been more important to ensure people have access to the help they need for recovery. At Gateway, we hope this report will enable more people to see that addiction should not be viewed as a character flaw, but as a chronic disease that needs treatment.”

One in seven people in the U.S. is expected to develop a substance use disorder at some point in their lives. Yet only 1 in 10 receives treatment. Among other things, the report shows that substance use disorders typically develop over time following repeated episodes of misuse that result in changes to the brain circuitry.

“Alcohol and drug addiction take an enormous toll on individuals, families, and communities,” said Murthy. “Most Americans know someone who has been touched by an alcohol or a drug use disorder. Yet 90 percent of people with a substance use disorder are not getting treatment. That has to change.”

The cost to Illinois of untreated substance use disorders is a heavy one.

The annual Illinois statewide economic costs associated with alcohol, other drug, and tobacco-related mortality is in excess of $3.5 billion, according to the Illinois Department of Human Services. And more 5,500 deaths among Illinois residents each year, over 5% of all deaths, are directly or indirectly related to the use of alcohol and other drugs, the state agency says.

And Illinois is among 14 states where significant increases in drug overdose death rates have been recorded from 2013 to 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control. They were: Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Illinois’ increased death rate was 8.3%.

While addiction related problems have battered Illinois in recent years, the state’s financial commitment to support substance abuse treatment has nosedived.

Since Fiscal Year 2009, state funding for treatment has dropped 40%.  In Fiscal Year 2009, $163.4 million was budgeted by the state for treatment, but that number fell to $98 million in Governor Bruce Rauner’s proposed Fiscal Year 2017 budget. Moreover, in the absence of a state budget, the state’s actual expenditure on addiction treatment dropped to less than $70 million.

Budget cuts to substance abuse treatment, which began under Governor Pat Quinn, has whittled down the number of individuals being served.  For example, between Fiscal Year 2013 and Fiscal Year 2015 alone the number of individuals served annually fell 12 % from 49,313 to 43,591.  In Fiscal Year 2015, there were 8,165 fewer admissions to treatment than in FY13, an 11% drop.

Meanwhile, a solid majority of Illinois voters want the State of Illinois to invest more money in drug treatment.

A July 26 automated poll of 826 likely Illinois voters conducted by Illinois Public Opinion Strategies found that 55.4% of likely voters support investing more money to “provide treatment to individuals struggling with drug addiction, such as addiction to heroin” and 27.2% support “investing less money.” 17.4% were undecided.

“While Illinois voters want more money invested in treatment, while the science validates treatment, while a heroin rages and spreads in Illinois, our elected leaders have headed in the opposite direction and financially gutted treatment,” said Howe. “The Surgeon General’s landmark report is a medical milestone, but without a financial investment turnaround in treatment we’ll soon be writing our achievements on a tombstone.”

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