The recent well-researched and deeply disturbing stories about overdose trends in The New York Times provide further irrefutable evidence that the addiction crisis in America is dramatically worsening:
"Graphs of the drug overdose deaths look like those of a new infectious disease... diffusing out and catching more and more people...But deaths from the traditional killers for which treatment has greatly improved over the past decade - heart disease, HIV and cancer - went down."
However, the stories fail to investigate any solutions or suggest the critical need for a systematic approach (like we have taken with the other massive health problems mentioned in the articles) to address the national scourge of addiction.
Twenty two million Americans are currently suffering from addiction - far more than from cancer and nearly as many as from heart disease. As the death toll has continued to climb in the last decade, addiction has maintained one statistic that should shock all of us -- a 90 percent treatment gap. This means that 90 percent of those 22 million Americans suffering today will not get any help whatsoever for their life-threatening illness.
We can no longer sit back and look with detached concern at graphs and statistics of this plague that is ravaging our country's youth. We have to begin to ask the all-important but difficult question: How do we reverse these trends?
Just like the complex illness of HIV/AIDS, there is not yet a cure for addiction, but there is much to be hopeful about. Promising work is underway in the areas of prevention, treatment, and long-term recovery. Communities are benefiting from programs such as providing first responders with the ability to reverse overdoses using Naloxone. But much more needs to be done - and this will require significant philanthropy and innovation.
Astonishingly, there has never been the equivalent of the American Cancer Society or American Heart Association to battle addiction in our country, despite the terrifying reality that addiction impacts one in every three households (i.e., those currently suffering and those in long-term recovery).
I left my career to help form Facing Addiction because three years ago my beautiful boy, Austin, died of an overdose. His death could have been prevented if addiction received the same public outpouring of concern, empathy, and funding that cancer and other chronic diseases receive.
Americans generously and rightfully donate hundreds of millions -- and, in some cases, billions -- of dollars yearly to support the efforts to fight against cancer, heart disease, and even the once marginalized condition of HIV/AIDS. Yet only a tiny fraction of this amount -- literally just a few million dollars -- is donated to battling addiction.
The opportunity lies before us to make great strides in the fight against addiction. But it will require us to dig deeper than just reporting the numbers on the "overdose crisis;" think well beyond the simplistic notion that those afflicted "got themselves into this mess and if they wanted to stop, they would;" and boldly envision a systematic transformation similar to those that have been made with other health crises in America's history.
But it is going to take all of us - individuals, the health care system, and journalists - to ask the tougher, more complex questions about the issue all of us would prefer to deny with a turn of our heads. Unfortunately, having paid the ultimate price for our collective apathy and inaction, I will never be able to turn my attention away from addiction. It's time to start facing addiction with the urgency these deeply disturbing statistics demand and asking ourselves tougher questions - and demanding better answers - than ever before.
Co-Founder and CEO
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.