In an effort to provide a comprehensive picture of smoking, drinking, and substance abuse–including long-term trends, effects on society, media and cultural influences, approaches to and effectiveness of treatment, and future implications–the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has published a report that incorporates more than three decades’ worth of data from several hundred public and private sources.
The report, “Substance Abuse: The Nation’s Number One Health Problem,” substantiates its title by documenting that tobacco, alcohol, and drug use cause more illnesses, deaths, and disabilities than any other preventable health problem. Of the more than two million deaths in the United States each year, one in four is attributable to tobacco, alcohol, or illicit substances.
The report looks at substance abuse from several different perspectives, including the following:
Early use. More than 40 percent of those who started drinking at age 14 or younger developed alcohol dependence, compared with 10 percent of those who began drinking at age 20 or older.
Media depictions. Alcohol appeared in 93 percent and tobacco in 89 percent of the 200 most popular movie rentals in 1996 and 1997.
Crime. At least half of all adults arrested for major crimes–including theft and assault–tested positive for drugs at the time of their arrest.
Treatment. Fewer than one-fourth of those in need receive treatment, although studies show that treatment is successful in up to 70 percent of alcohol patients and 80 percent of opiate users (with success defined as a 50 percent reduction in substance use after six months). Of the U.S. government’s drug control budget, three in five dollars are spent on criminal justice and interdiction, but fewer than one in five on treatment.
Education. People with more education are more likely to drink, but those with less education are more likely to drink heavily. Smoking is more common among people with less education, and heavy smoking is higher among those who lack a high school diploma.
Gender differences. Men are almost four times as likely as women to be heavy drinkers and one-and-a-half times as likely to smoke a pack or more of cigarettes each day
Costs. The economic cost of all substance abuse in the United States was estimated at $414 billion in 1995. The primary financial burden of alcohol abuse is productivity loss; the greatest implications of smoking are those related to health care costs; for drug abuse, the leading economic cost is from crime.
The report, which was prepared by the Schneider Institute for Health Policy at Brandeis University, is available at http://substanceabuse.rwjf.org, the Web site of the Substance Abuse Resource Center at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The report can be found under the heading “Substance Abuse Chartbook.” Hard copies of the report can be obtained by calling (609) 452-8701.
Materials Available to Publicize Mental Health Month
The National Mental Health Association (NMHA) has developed a planning kit and several ancillary materials, including sample news releases and public service announcements, fact sheets, ad slicks, and posters, to help promote Mental Health Month in May 2001.
The Employee Assistance Professionals Association is one of more than 50 organizations partnering with NMHA to celebrate Mental Health Month, the purpose of which is to educate the public and policymakers about the importance of mental health and the reality of mental illness. EAPA members and chapters are encouraged to collaborate with partners in their area to organize activities and advocate for better mental health care and treatment.
The planning kit provides examples of how local Mental Health Associations have worked with the public, legislators, minority groups, religious leaders, the media, and partnering organizations to reinforce the message that “Mental Health Matters.” It also contains a variety of promotional materials and recommendations for communicating mental health information to diverse audiences.