In this month’s Reclaiming Futures newsletter, we draw your attention to a new report issued by US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy on November 17, 2016. The report is significant because it marks the first time a United States Surgeon General has taken such a clear and strong position that substance use and addiction should be viewed first and foremost as a public health issue. This is a position many advocates and organizations, like Reclaiming Futures, have taken for many years because we know firsthand the collateral consequences of continuing to view substance use and addiction as a moral failing and as a matter for the criminal justice system, and not the public health system and/or through a racially biased lens.
We know from our own work and national evaluation results that partnering with juvenile justice systems across the country to adopt a public health lens and replacing punitive responses with science-based, humanistic, and community-driven treatment alternatives, attending to issues of equity in access to care and justice, not only leads to better health outcomes for youth, but reduces recidivism and saves significant taxpayer dollars that could be reinvested in community-based treatment alternatives.
The Surgeon General’s report is encouraging and the potential policy and national public health implications of the Surgeon General’s position are enormous, but only if there continues to be high level government support and investment in continued reforms to the way we view and respond to substance use and mental health treatment needs in this country.