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Surgeon general ramps up addiction battle

The U.S. surgeon general has released the first comprehensive report on addiction in America, and he wants it to have as much public health punch as the groundbreaking report on the dangers of tobacco 50 years ago.

In an interview with POLITICO on the eve of its release, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said that he’s determined to make the report an action item in communities across the country, and not just put it on the shelf.

“We can’t afford not to address it,” he said. “We can’t afford to stay on the path we’re on.”

More than 20 million people in America have substance abuse problems; 78 die every day from opioids alone.

The report, released Thursday morning, is about substance abuse broadly — both alcohol and drugs, legal and illegal. But it’s the opioid epidemic that has grabbed public attention. And opioids have gradually emerged as one of Murthy’s top priorities, particularly as he’s traveled the country listening to families’ stories.

In Washington and the states, Republicans and Democrats alike have endorsed a more robust response, and Congress passed bipartisan legislation — although it’s not yet funded. But the report, “Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health,” arrives amid heightened uncertainty about policy and access to treatment.

The incoming Trump administration has not outlined a detailed opioid policy, although Donald Trump during the campaign pledged to stop illegal drugs from flowing across the borders and to make sure people with addiction have “the assistance they need to unchain themselves.”

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