- Posted January 12, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Your 'Aha' weight-loss moments
New Mortality Study -- Shorter Lives, Poorer Health : The Media Flunks Reporting Accurately On Addiction
The U.S. faces a health crisis. A new study --U.S. Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health -- compared life expectancy and health in the U.S. with sixteen “peer” nations, and found that the U.S. ranked last in life expectancy and fared worse than its peers in at least nine health areas, including drug related deaths. The media, however, inaccurately reported that the study concluded addiction is “a choice”. For example, CNN’s January 9th coverage of the study stated:
“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”.
Further, in a January 11th CNN opinion article on the study, the author called addiction a “[choice made] at a personal level”.
This is a distortion of the study’s findings -- the study never stated that substance abuse was tantamount to Americans “knowing what was good for them and not acting on it”. Addiction is not a choice. Science established this decades ago when addiction was proven to be a disease.
Equating addiction to not wearing a seatbelt is like equating diabetes to rollarskating . Alcohol and drug addiction is a life threatening illness affecting 23 million Americans. Each year, addiction kills 116,000 people, including 3,500 children, in the U.S. Substance abuse is the second leading cause of death among children aged 15-19. As Gil Kerlikowske, the Director of National Drug Control Policy, recently stressed, in announcing a new focus on recovery in battling the substance abuse epidemic, addiction is a disease, not a moral failing. News agencies need to get this right.
Misinformation -- like "just make better choices" -- can be a death sentence for those who suffer from addiction. Will power or knowledge, alone, are not effective in stopping addiction -- any more than they are effective in stopping the progress of a cancer. The information that must be conveyed is that recovery from addiction can be achieved and maintained through proper medical treatment, ongoing participation in 12 step programs, and transitional assistance, such as sober housing, childcare, and work training. This message needs to be consistent and continual if we are to make progress against this epidemic.
The new study concluded that with lives and dollars at stake, the U.S. must take immediate action to improve the life expectancy and health of Americans by understanding why the U.S. lags behind other peer nations so that appropriate health objectives and strategies can be implemented. It noted that not only a list of goals, but a societal commitment of effort were required to meet this challenge. Accurate media reporting on the health issues contributing to America’s health crisis, including addiction, is essential. Without better public education about this disease, those suffering from addiction, their families and loved ones, are left without the information they need to seek recovery.
Lisa M. Jacobsen