Surgeon General Vivek Murthy is on a mission, one that involves asking everyone in this country to think differently about drug addiction.

How many are affected?

Today, at least half of overdose opioid deaths involve a prescription, prompting Murthy to spread the message that we need to reexamine how painkillers are being used as treatment.

“Everywhere I go, I find families and communities touched by the opioid crisis. Like many clinicians, I’ve seen first-hand the devastating impact that substance use disorders and addiction have on our patients, their families and our communities,” he states. “We have to change how our country sees addiction—not as a moral failing, but a chronic illness that must be treated with skill, urgency and compassion.”

The threat of opioids

Murthy has made it a priority to reach out to every medical professional to emphasize the risk of opioids. “Some of us were taught incorrectly that opioids were not addictive when prescribed for legitimate pain,” Murthy explains. “But we can transform prescribing practices to ensure we are treating pain effectively and safely.”

His efforts focus on bringing attention to substance abuse as a whole. With heroin-related deaths having more than tripled since 2010, Murthy is shining a light on an epidemic that needs to be addressed.

Medication-assisted treatments

While traveling the country, he visited the Man Alive Treatment Center in Baltimore, which provides comprehensive, innovative solutions through medication-assisted treatments, art therapy, group and individual counseling, and careful and compassionate case management.

Murthy describes the visit as a humbling experience. “One story I will never forget came from a gentleman who has been receiving treatment at the center for more than 40 years,” Murthy shares. “He said had it not been for the treatment he received there, he would be another statistic.

“I was touched by the dedication of the staff and patients, the inspirational stories of healing through art therapy and the strong sense of community.”