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Remarks by Surgeon General Vivek Murthy at the Unite to Face Addiction Rally

October 4, 2015
Washington, DC

“We’re going to stop treating addiction as a moral failing, and start seeing it for what it is: a chronic disease that must be treated with urgency and compassion…which is why I’m proud to announce that next year, I will be releasing the first-ever Surgeon General’s Report on substance use, addiction, and health.”

AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY

Thank you, Congressman Kennedy, and thank you for sharing your story with all of us.

You know, before I put on this uniform, I worked at a hospital in Boston. As a doctor, you do a lot of educating. But I’m not here to tell you what I was able to teach the people I treated. 

I’m here to tell you what they taught me. 

I’m here to tell you what I learned. I learned that there is no single face of addiction, it impacts all of us, and our families. I learned that recovery starts with humility. It’s sustained by the strength to ask for help. And I learned that recovery takes hope to get us through the moments when we’re not sure we can make it. I learned that recovery is about community.

And that is what today is all about. That is why I am here. Because when I look out at all of you, I see a community that shouldn’t have to stand alone. So my message today is simple: I’m here to stand with you. I’m here to say that we’re going to stop treating addiction as a moral failing, and start seeing it for what it is: a chronic disease that must be treated with urgency and compassion.

I’m here to say that we won’t hide from this issue because it’s hard for some to talk about. Because we know there was a time in this country when it was hard to talk about smoking, about AIDS, and about mental health.

But we were fortunate enough to have leaders who stood up and said: It’s time for us to have a conversation in this country that’s based on facts; A conversation that’s based on medicine and science.

Which is why I’m proud to announce that next year, I will be releasing the first-ever Surgeon General’s Report on substance use, addiction, and health. We’re going to look at the best science on everything, from heroin and marijuana, to alcohol and prescription opioids.

And we’re going to launch a national campaign to tackle the prescription drug crisis, because we know that someone dies from an opioid overdose every 24 minutes in this country.

And we won’t stop there. We’ll use this report to find a way forward, together. Yes, we’ll focus on treatment and recovery. But we’ll also focus on prevention. Because we know that we need a comprehensive approach.  

This work has to start now. And if you need any proof of this, just look around.

We are joined today by leaders and lawmakers: people like Senator Ed Markey and Congressman Patrick Kennedy; people like the women and men of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, our nation’s guardians of health.

I want to thank them all. But I also want to thank all of you. You’re the ones standing up to addiction every day. You’re the ones raising your voices and making all of our progress possible.

So let us, all of us, take a moment to put our hands together:  for the organizers of this great event, for the people with me on stage, and most importantly, for all of you.

I’ll leave you with this, because this is so important to me. 

Right before I came to Washington to become Surgeon General, I was saying goodbye to our team of nurses in Boston. These were the women and men who helped train me, who supported me, and who helped me become the doctor I am today. These are the women and men who, as anyone can tell you, are the real heart of any hospital.

And they had a request for me. They told me that if I did just onething as Surgeon General, I should do something about the drug crisis in America. I promised them that I would. I promised them that I would because they knew it was destroying too many of our communities.

So you all have my word: that as long as I am in this office; as long as I am wearing this uniform – I will stand with you. I will stand up for recovery. And we will face addiction together.

Thank you.

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