- Posted January 10, 2013 by
New Mortality Study -- Media Reporting On Addiction Lacks Accuracy And Urgency
Gil Kerlikowske, the Director of National Drug Control Policy, recently announced a new focus on recovery in national substance abuse policy, based upon long-standing science that alcohol and drug addiction is a disease, not a moral failing, and statistics showing the disease is an epidemic in this country. Despite the urgency needed to combat this epidemic, news agencies reported on a new mortality study today --U.S. Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health -- by suggesting that addiction is “a choice”, and by downplaying the disease's impact on U.S. mortality rates.
CNN paraphrased the study as stating:
“Although Americans know what is ‘good’ for them, few act on it . . . we consume more calories, have higher rates of drug abuse, are less likely to use seat belts, and are more likely to use guns in acts of violence, according to the report”.
CNN's suggestion that addiction is “a choice” mischaractered the mortality study.
The study never stated that alcohol and drug addiction are lifestyle choices. Equating alcohol and drug addiction to choosing what is not “good” for us -- like not fastening our seatbelts -- perpetuates a complete and dangerous misunderstanding of this disease. Will power or knowledge, alone, are not effective in stopping addiction -- anymore than they are effective in stopping the progress of a cancer.
Therefore, in 2011, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) reported that 23.1 million Americans needed specialized care for substance abuse. The agency cautioned that:
“These statistics represent real lives that are at risk from the harmful and sometimes devastating effects of illicit drug use. This nation cannot afford to risk losing more individuals, families and communities to illicit drugs or from other types of substance abuse”.
SAMHSA’s conclusion that sufferers need specialized care to overcome addiction reflects indisputable science which established addiction as a disease decades ago. Accordingly, news coverage suggesting that addiction is “a choice”, like failing to buckle up, should be a relic of our past.
The media should be leaders in reporting on this epidemic, not obstacles. SAMSHA stated with urgency that we must do everything we can to effectively promote public education, treatment and recovery programs to combat this epidemic. Promoting the antiquated and inaccurate suggestion that addiction is “a choice” misinforms the public, thwarts public education efforts, and impedes access to recovery .
Equally as alarming, the media reported on the mortality study by focusing, in some cases almost exclusively, on the study's discussion of deaths from gun violence. Alcohol and drug addiction, however, strikes far more than the 16,800 people, including approximately 2,800 children, who die each year from the use of firearms in the U.S. Each year, this epidemic kills 116,000 Americans, including 3,500 children, from an illness which often begins in childhood and destroys entire families. These statistics come from SAMHSA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Children’s Defense Fund, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and a June 2012 report to the United States Senate with Recommendations to the President. The media's selective and narrow reporting of threats impacting the lives and health of millions is inexcusable.
When are we going to care enough about this epidemic to get the facts right? When are we going to report on this life threatening illness with the same urgency with which we report on guns so that Americans get the answers they need? Shall we wait ten years until a million more die? When? It is astounding, really, that we even have to ask these questions.
Lisa M. Jacobsen, Harvest House