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A Public Health-Based Approach to Addressing Substance Use Disorders

Released in 2016, Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General's 2016 Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health addresses the problem of alcohol and drug misuse in America. The report recognizes that a comprehensive approach is necessary in order to successfully face the issues of substance misuse and its associated problems.

Included within the report are evidence-based prevention strategies, an explanation of the neurobiological basis for substance use disorders, and a look into recent changes in healthcare financing that contribute to the problem's persistence. The report is designed with the intent of reducing the prevalence of substance use disorders and also to help inform policymakers and healthcare professionals about effective and sustainable ways to address these problems. Throughout the report, findings are also highlighted that are relevant to important groups such as rural communities.

The Surgeon General's 2016 Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health calls for a public health-based approach to addressing substance use disorders and discusses the importance of building awareness of substance misuse as a public health problem. Public health is the science of preventing disease and injury and promoting and protecting the health of populations and communities. The public health system in the U.S. consists of federal, state, local, tribal and territorial public health agencies, including rural public health agencies, as well as non-governmental organizations and other partners, and is guided by the ten essential services. Public health approaches recognize the multi-faceted nature of substance misuse and focus on addressing the myriad of individual, environmental, and social factors that contribute to substance use disorders.

Specifically, the report calls for a public health systems approach to substance misuse that:

  • “Defines the problem through the systematic collection of data on the scope, characteristics, and consequences of substance misuse;
  • Identifies the risk and protective factors that increase or decrease the risk for substance misuse and its consequences, and the factors that could be modified through interventions;
  • Works across the public and private sector to develop and test interventions that address social, environmental, or economic determinants of substance misuse and related health consequences;
  • Supports broad implementation of effective prevention and treatment interventions and recovery supports in a wide range of settings; and
  • Monitors the impact of these interventions on substance misuse and related problems as well as on risk and protective factors.”

Resources to Learn More

Defining and Implementing a Public Health Response to Drug Use and Misuse
Policy statement from the American Public Health Association, including proposed recommendations.
Organization(s): American Public Health Association

Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General's Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health
Report from the Surgeon General covering the biological basis of substance misuse, prevention and treatment interventions, recovery issues, healthcare systems, and public health approaches.
Organization(s): U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General
Date: 11/2016