Drug addiction is leading to a steady increase in overdoses in the United States creating a major public health issue. Public health is the science of preventing disease and injury and promoting and protecting the health of everyone. Overdose deaths are at an all-time high. The public health approach for treating addiction recognizes the complexity of addiction, and how individual, environmental, and social factors contribute to the disease. Prioritizing and expanding treatment through public health could reduce the number of overdose deaths.
The Centers for Disease Control added drug overdose prevention to its list of top five public health challenges. Drug addiction treatment is often unavailable or unaffordable. Medication, behavioral therapy, or a combination of the two are possible treatments for drug addiction. The average percentage of addicts who relapse is 40-60% whereas hypertension is 50-70%.1 When relapse occurs in an addict, many see the treatment as a failure. When people who had treatment for chronic hypertension experienced symptoms after treatment, they would simply be treated again. One could argue that overdose deaths have no impact on public health. However, any death impacts a community, and as more overdoses occur, more people are affected. Prejudice and misconceptions about addiction hinder the use of preventative measures and treatment programs. Gaining public acceptance of scientifically established facts about addiction so that preventive and treatment programs can be established, can reduce overdoses and improve public health.
Prevention techniques for many other public health issues such as smoking, HIV, and breast cancer are effective. Successful treatment for addiction requires sustained evaluation and/or modification, similar to hypertension. Treating addiction as a chronic disease will save the lives of millions. Treatment for addiction is as necessary as treatment for hypertension, and in order to improve public health, addiction must be recognized as a disease that can be treated in order to save lives.
1 National Institute on Drug Abuse
*Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, All Drug Overdose Death Rates, 2018.