U.S. Surgeon General: Addiction a disease, not a moral failing

In an interview with Health News Florida, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy emphasized that the disease of addiction – be it alcoholism or heroin dependence – is a disease of addiction and is not a moral failing.

The news collective out of Tampa caught up with Murphy in Cleveland earlier this mother where he gave the keynote speech at the annual Association of Health Care Journalists conference.

Murthy said  wants to help change the way people look at addiction and the current heroin epidemic.

“We have to be sure that people see it for what it is, which is a chronic illness, that we have to treat it with the same urgency and the same skill the same compassion we would diabetes or heart disease,” he told Health News Florida.

He said the government and the private sector must ensure that not only are prescribing practices changing in regards to opioid medications but that first-responders have overdose antidotes like Nalaxone, also known as a “save shot.”

The disease may have taken one of our most beloved musicians.  Supposedly, Prince received a save shot the week before his death.

Addiction is hitting South Florida hard. It is home to unprecedented numbers of heroin overdoses.

Those overdoses reflect the large  numbers of people coming to Palm Beach County to recover from heroin- and the numbers of unscrupulous businesses exploiting them.  Read more about addiction in our series Addiction Treatment: Inside the Gold Rush.

US Surgeon General Vice Admiral (VADM) Vivek H. Murthy, M.D., M.B.A., center, tours FoundCare in West Palm Beach on February 6, 2015. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)
US Surgeon General  Vivek H. Murthy , tours FoundCare in West Palm Beach on February 6, 2015. He says its time addiction is treated as an illness, not a moral failing.

Murthy said that because society didn’t address addiction as an illness for decades, many people have gone without treatment, missing out on living fulfilling lives and contributing to society. He is forming the first-ever Surgeon General’s Report on Substance Use, Addiction and Health.

“It’s there not only to bring together the best science and how to prevent and treat substance abuse disorders, but it’s also there to move the country toward a new way of thinking about addiction,” Murthy said.

To read all of Health News Florida’s report click here.


Mayor wants to open supervised heroin injection facility

HeroinIthaca’s mayor has a unique plan to address the drug epidemic in his community: a supervised heroin injection facility.

“I have watched for 20 years this system that just doesn’t work,” Svante Myrick, 28, explained in an Associated Press interview. “We can’t wait anymore for the federal government. We have people shooting up in alleys. In bathroom stalls. And too many of them are dying.”

Myrick’s plan is to create a facility where heroin users can shoot the illegal drug with a clean needle under the supervision of a nurse, and without fear of being arrested by police. Medical staff will be available if the user should accidentally overdose, and other resources will be available if the addict wants to seek recovery treatment.

“I think for a lot of people this is going to sound like a weird concept — ‘Aren’t you just encouraging them to use drugs?'” he said. “But I think it’s more possible now than at any time in our history. The opioid epidemic is affecting more people and we know we can’t wait any longer for the federal government to do something.”

The plan faces legal hurdles in New York’s legislature, where heroin use has not been deemed a state health crisis yet. These types of facilities are already in use in Canada, Europe and Australia, according to the AP, so there is precedent for the approach.

Read more about Myrick’s background, how he came up with the idea and the opposition he faces here.