Substance Abuse as a Public Health Problem

  • Date: Jan 01 1971
  • Policy Number: 7121

Key Words: Substance Abuse, Illicit Drugs, Alcohol

Substance abuse, including opiate dependence, alcoholism, or abuse of any substance with potentially deleterious psychological and social effects, is a cultural and public health problem affecting many millions of persons in the United States. In addition to the individuals directly affected, this disease indirectly affects large segments of the population, and involves in its control a number of social, legal, and health institutions.

Prejudice and misinformation contrary to scientific advances in the field of substance abuse hamper the development of preventive and early treatment programs. Experience has shown that the effectiveness of prevention, control, and treatment of any public health problem is in direct ratio to the degree of public understanding and acceptance.

The American Public Health Association urges all state and local health departments, and mental health and other substance control agencies, medical schools, nursing schools, schools of public health, and other health professional schools and programs to initiate programs aimed at securing public acceptance of the scientifically established facts in the field of substance abuse, so that appropriate preventive and treatment programs can be established.

The Association urges:
That a systematic study be made of the total costs, both individual and societal, of the use and cost of the control of substances subject to abuse, thereby basing control measures, insofar as possible, on objectively delineated costs and benefits;

That services for substance abuse be integrated into any comprehensive health care system in communities, so that persons with this disease have access to treatment and rehabilitation;

That rehabilitation programs for substance abuse be coordinated, and an inventory of rehabilitation and treatment programs be maintained to ensure optimum assignment, interagency referral and follow-up of patients;

That careful extramural evaluation be carried out for programs involved in the treatment and rehabilitation of substance abusers, and that efforts be made to ensure the standardization of evaluative and statistical data in this field.

That longitudinal surveys of substance abuse collect standardized data on motivation as well as on demographic variables, and that these surveys assure confidentiality of data on individuals. Before new surveys are initiated use should be made of valid data already collected.

Because substance abuse is viewed primarily as a public health problem, this association recommends that no punitive measures be taken against the users of alcohol, marijuana, or other substances when no other illegal act has been committed. A recent Supreme Court decision has upheld this concept with respect to alcoholism.

The American Public Health Association wishes to commend President Nixon and the Congress for creating the Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention. This marks an important step by the federal government in viewing substance abuse as a public health problem, instead of merely a problem of criminal deviancy.

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