-- With drug overdoses causing tens of thousands of deaths every year in the U.S., physicians are calling for the crisis to be treated like a medical emergency.
Today, the American College of Physicians (ACP) published a position paper arguing that action needs to be taken by the medical community and others to stem the crisis, especially in light of the massive growth of the opioid epidemic.
In addition, the ACP advocates for policies that give non-violent drug offenders the option to receive treatment and reduced prison sentences for possession.
"We need to have more treatment programs and we need to have more funding in this area," Damle explained. "It's a heavy societal burden it really endangers families and not just individuals."
Physicians can make a huge difference in combating the substance abuse epidemic by limiting the amount of opioids they prescribe, Damle added. Checking databases to ensure patients aren't getting opioid drugs from other doctors and taking additional courses on substance abuse to better treat disorders can also help, he said.
Opioid abuse remains a deadly crisis in the U.S. An estimated 91 people fatally overdose on opioids every day, according to the CDC, and approximately 52,000 died from drug overdoses in 2015.
Dr. Caleb Alexander, Co-Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness, said the paper is "welcome news" given how little help there is for people suffering from substance abuse disorders.
"There is a huge gap between the need for these services and their delivery," Alexander said. "Millions of Americans need treatment for an illicit drug or alcohol use problem yet don’t receive."
"This is all the more shocking because it’s a good investment," he continued. "For every dollar invested in drug prevention and treatment, we save money as a society –- we can either pay for it now, or pay for it later."
Alexander said the fact that the paper emphasizes treatment for substance addiction rather than incarceration is important.
"When it comes to opioids, we should be talking about addiction, not abuse," he said. "Addiction is a disease, abuse is a behavior."