Doctor, you’ve got mail.
Not stamped yet, not even in the envelope, but it’s as good as done, said Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy Tuesday afternoon at the 2016 Summit on RX Drug Abuse and Heroin in Atlanta.
In an echo of former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop’s historic letter to 107 million households regarding the AIDS epidemic, Murthy is drafting letters to more than one million doctors, dentists and other health care providers in a call for action on the opiod epidemic.
It’s particularly targeted move: It’s physicians who have driven the opiod epidemic with massive numbers of narcotics prescriptions, Murthy and others at the Summit have pointed out.
Every year, Murthy said, another 215 million new opiod prescriptions are written, “enough to put a bottle of pills in the hands of every adult American.”
But, he said, doctors have gotten bad information, both about the addictive potential of drugs such as oxycodone, and addiction overall. For instance, physicians beginning in about 1996 were being taught that fewer than one percent of all patients treated with narcotics were likely to become addicted. State medical boards warns of sanctions against doctors who failed to aggressively treat pain.
“Far too often, doctors have been in situations with patients who they believed were addicted to opiods,” said Murthy, but, he said, physicians did not have the education or tools needed to know whether their prescriptions were alleviating pain or feeding an addiction.
Murthy isn’t stopping with a letter. He’s compiling the first report of any surgeon general addressing substance abuse, addiction and health.
Like the letter, such reports carry clout: Think the tobacco report in 1964 on tobacco and the 1987 report on HIV/AIDS, both of which moved the needle on public discussions of major health issues.
And, like Koop, Murthy intends to use his position as a bully pulpit to educate.
“I want to help the country see that (addiction) is not a moral failing, but a chronic illness that we need to treat with compassion, urgency and skill.”