Guest Opinion: Addiction needs action

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Addiction continues to lurk in the shadows of American society, destroying lives and destabilizing communities.

In this country, there is a long history of attributing addiction to personal failure and moral weakness. This has led our society to the point where we refuse to have an open and honest conversation about addiction.

By now, most people have heard of the opioid epidemic, which killed more than 33,000 Americans in 2015 alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What most people do not know is that drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, and excessive alcohol use is the fourth-leading cause of preventable death nationwide. In Iowa, prescription drug and heroin overdoses are near all-time highs, according to the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy.

We are amid an ongoing national public-health crisis. Addiction is pervasive in our communities, but we are not doing enough to provide resources and treatment.

Paul Gilbert, a University of Iowa College of Public Health professor, said the opioid crisis is an opportunity to leverage public concern and push for more support for resources and policies that combat addiction. He cites the spike in opioid abuse in Iowa and across the country but notes there has been no corresponding increase in treatment facilities. This means many people are going without the treatment they need.

An estimated 22.5 million Americans need specialty treatment for a problem with alcohol or illicit drug use, but only about 2.6 million received treatment in the past year, according to the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Beyond personal suffering, there are also severe economic and social costs associated with drug and alcohol addiction. The health and social costs related to prescription opioid abuse totaled more than $55 billion in 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Additionally, Gilbert distinguishes between the direct and indirect public-health impacts of heavy drinking. The direct effects include health problems, such as increased risk of liver disease, cancer, heart disease, anxiety, and depression. An equally important, but often dismissed, set of public-health concerns are the indirect effects of heavy drinking. Excessive alcohol use can lead to increased interpersonal violence, car crashes, risky sexual behavior, and increased sexually transmitted infections. Additional concerns include the high cost of policing, court cases, and sustaining the criminal-justice system, which are all used to respond to alcohol and drug abuse.

“When you add it all up, that can be quite the impact on the public-health infrastructure of a community,” Gilbert said. He points out that we do not often connect these public-health concerns to substance misuse, but the issues are deeply intertwined.

When it comes to both Iowa and the United States investing resources in addiction treatment and prevention, Gilbert says, “We’re not anywhere near where we need to be.”

 -— Rachel Zuckerman,

UISG president

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