Substance use disorders and the harms associated with these diseases are a serious, growing public health problem in the United States. Nearly 33,000 Americans died from an opioid overdose in 2015, and more than 15,000 people died from overdoses involving prescription opioids. In total, this translates to 91 lives lost each day from a prescription or illicit opioid overdose.
Yet these deaths do not reflect the full public health impact of substance use disorders. Individuals who misuse drugs or alcohol are more likely to develop chronic health conditions, experience poorer health outcomes, and have contact with the criminal justice system. The costs are high: The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that illicit drug and alcohol abuse accounts for more than $400 billion annually related to health care, lost work productivity, and crime.
More than 20 million Americans have a substance use disorder. However, in 2015, only about 10 percent of these individuals received any kind of treatment—whether through self-help programs, inpatient and outpatient treatment centers, or doctors’ offices. Effective care, including access to programs that provide medication-assisted treatment, remains elusive for many patients.
Public health experts and policymakers are now calling for evidence-based strategies to prevent substance misuse and improve treatment options for people with substance use disorders. As part of this effort, Pew’s substance use prevention and treatment initiative develops and supports state and federal policies that would:
- Reduce the inappropriate use of prescription drugs while ensuring that patients have access to effective pain management.
- Expand access to effective treatment for substance use disorders, including through the increased use of drug and behavioral health therapies.
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