An estimated 2.1 million people suffer substance abuse disorders related to opioids, while an estimated 467,000 suffer an addiction to heroin. According to a report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Services Administration, 89 percent of people who need treatment for illicit drug use or alcohol don’t get it.

The report indicates that, often, people do not receive the help they need either due to cost or the stigma surrounding opioid use. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who has been traveling the country and meeting with families who have lost loved ones, urges compassion rather than condemnation as well as an understanding that addiction is not a choice.

“I have met parents who have lost children to drug overdoses, I have also met doctors and nurses who are overwhelmed by patients coming in with opioid addiction,” Murthy says. “I think the stigma around mental- around addiction is a powerful force that does hold us and it holds us back in a number of ways.”

Murthy reveals that although many people are not opposed to a cancer treatment center or a new heart disease center in their neighborhood, they are vehemently opposed to treatment centers for addiction.

“The stigma is a real concern and we have to get around it. What we have to help people understand is that addiction is not a character flaw, not a moral failing. It’s a disease of the brain and it’s a chronic illness like diabetes or heart disease so we have to treat with urgency, skill and compassion.”

The House of Representatives passed legislation this week aimed at tackling the growing epidemic of opioid addiction in the United States.

The bill, approved 407 – 5, is a comprehensive effort budgeting $500 million to provide states with funding to train first responders on overdose treatment, create alternatives to incarceration for drug abuse, and research measures against illegal drug traffic.

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