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Cory Monteith, Amy Winehouse, Heath Ledger and now the award-winning Philip Seymour Hoffman, how many more talented stars must die from addiction before we treat it as the disease that it is?
Celebrities certainly aren’t the only ones who fall victim to addiction, they are just the most visible. For every Emmy®, Oscar® and Grammy® winner that succumbs to addiction there are more than 1,500 mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, children, brothers and sisters who die each day as a result of this disease.
Following an incident like this, the media tends to focus on the deceased’s substance of choice. Today, the substance was heroin, but by Hoffman’s own admission he would take anything he could get. What we and the media fail to acknowledge is that the problem is not any specific drug, but the overarching issue of addiction.
Addiction is a complex disease, often chronic in nature, which affects the structure and function of the brain. In fact, 40 million Americans ages 12 and older—or more than 1 in 7 people—have addiction involving nicotine, alcohol or other drugs. Despite the prevalence of this disease, we still fail to routinely screen for it or for the risky substance use that often precedes it, and we mostly fail to provide effective addiction treatment when we do spot it.
Currently, most health care professionals and many individuals who provide addiction services are not sufficiently trained in offering evidence-based care or able to provide the full range of addiction treatments. Addiction should be managed and treated by a team of trained health care professionals in the same way cancer or heart disease is.
Only when we accept the fact that addiction is not a moral failing, but in fact a deadly disease will we be able to appropriately prevent and treat it.