A top U.S. health official says addiction should no longer be seen as a “character flaw.”
U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy made the plea in a new report on substance abuse, called Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health.
He said the report "aims to shift the way our society thinks about substance misuse and substance-use disorders," which he said represent one of the most pressing public health crises of our time.
Murthy says addiction "is a chronic illness that we must approach with the same skill and compassion with which we approach heart disease, diabetes, and cancer."
The report claims 21 million Americans battle substance abuse, a number higher than the number of cancer patients.
Despite so many battling addiction, the report said only 10 percent are receiving treatment.
"For far too long, too many in our country have viewed addiction as a moral failing," said Murthy. "This unfortunate stigma has created an added burden of shame that has made people with substance-use disorders less likely to come forward and seek help."
The report comes at a time when the United States is in the middle of an opioid epidemic.
“Since 1999, the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids, including prescription opioid pain relievers and heroin, nearly quadrupled, and over 165,000 people have died from prescription opioid overdoses,” according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Officials hope the report will lead to more research on prevention, treatment and recovery in the same way the landmark 1964 surgeon general’s report on smoking eventually led to a dramatic reduction in the number of Americans who smoke, saving millions of lives.
"I am issuing a new call to action to end the public health crisis of addiction," Murthy said. "I recognize there is no single solution. How we respond to this crisis is a moral test for America."