The Surgeon General’s Priorities
As the Nation’s Doctor, the U.S. Surgeon General is focused on improving the country’s health. The Surgeon General communicates the best available scientific information to the public, using the position’s platform to reach individuals where they live, work, and play and by issuing scientific documents - Surgeon General’s Reports, Call to Action, and Advisories – on critical public health issues.
The Office of the Surgeon General also has its own peer-reviewed journal. Published since 1878, Public Health Reports issues original research and commentaries in the areas of tobacco control, health disparities, and critical and emerging public health issues.
As a Vice Admiral in the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, the Surgeon General leads a uniformed service of 6,500 highly qualified public health officers, who are committed to protecting, promoting and advancing the public health of our country and our world. Officers serve throughout the nation in communities that are most in need by providing essential health care services to underserved and vulnerable populations.
The Surgeon General’s priorities include:
- Opioids and Addiction
- Community Health and Economic Prosperity
- Health and National Security
- Oral Health
- Emerging Public Health Threats
Opioids and Addiction
Today in America, addiction is a public health crisis. The opioid epidemic and substance use disorders more broadly have become one of the most common chronic illnesses in the U.S. In 2016, more than 115 Americans die from an opioid overdose. The misuse of and addiction to opioids—including prescription pain relievers, heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl—is a serious national crisis that affects public health as well as social and economic welfare.
In 2015, nearly 21 million Americans – more than the number of people who have all cancers combined – suffer from a substance use disorder involving alcohol or drugs – but only 1 in 10 receives treatment. One in 7 people in the U.S. is expected to develop a substance use disorder at some point in lives.
The Office of the Surgeon General released the first ever Surgeon General’s report on Substance Use and Addiction in November 2016. Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health addresses alcohol, illicit drugs, and prescription drug misuse, with chapters dedicated to neurobiology, prevention, treatment, recovery, health systems integration and recommendations for the future. It provides an in-depth look at the science of substance use disorders and addiction, calls for a cultural shift in the way Americans talk about the issue, and recommends actions we can take to prevent and treat these conditions, and promote recovery.
In 2018, the Office of the Surgeon General released a public health advisory to urge more Americans to carry a lifesaving medication, naloxone, which can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. Additional help and resources are available.
In 2018, The Surgeon General released Facing Addiction in America: Spotlight on Opioids to provide opioid-relevant information for the 2016 Surgeon General’s Report. The Surgeon General’s opioid postcard has 5 actions every person can take to stem the opioid epidemic. For more opioid resources, go to hhs.gov/opioids.
Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States and worldwide. A tobacco free lifestyle not only means a lower risk of early death – it also means less chance of developing heart disease, cancer, lung disease, stroke, periodontal disease, and a host of other health conditions. The Surgeon General's Reports on the adverse health consequences of smoking and tobacco have triggered nationwide efforts to prevent tobacco use. In 2014, the 32nd Surgeon General's report on smoking and health highlighted half a century of progress in tobacco control and prevention in the U.S.
In 2016, the Office of the Surgeon General released E-Cigarette Use Among Youth and Young Adults: A Report of the Surgeon General. The report finds that, while nicotine is a highly addictive drug at any age, youth and young adults are uniquely vulnerable to the long-term consequences of exposing the brain to nicotine, and concludes that youth use of nicotine in any form is unsafe. The report also finds that secondhand aerosol that is exhaled into the air by e-cigarette users can expose others to potentially harmful chemicals.
Community Health and Economic Prosperity
America’s prosperity is being hampered by preventable chronic diseases and behavioral health issues. A population with poor health results in workforce shortages, absenteeism, presenteeism, work-related injuries and illnesses, profitability concerns, and challenges with workforce recruitment and retentions.
The second largest expense for large and small businesses, apart from salary, is health care for their employees. Productivity losses related to personal and family health problems are estimated to cost U.S. employers $1,685 per employee per year, or $225.8 billion annually. It is widely accepted among public health and medical experts that it is more cost effective to invest in preventive measures that foster health and well-being rather than treating the manifestations of poor health.
The Office of the Surgeon General will demonstrate the connection between health and economic prosperity and facilitate private sector investment in community health.
Health and National Security
Wellness is at the heart of the safety and security of our nation. It is estimated that 7 in 10 young people aged 17 to 24 would fail to qualify for military service due to obesity, educational deficits, or behavioral health issues/criminal history. In order to ensure a strong national defense, we need to ensure that threats to service member recruitment, retention, readiness, and resilience are mitigated.
Military performance is compromised if personnel are not healthy and physically fit. Obesity, tobacco use, and alcohol abuse pose a significant threat to military readiness and resilience. Obesity among active duty service members has risen between 2002 and 2011. These individuals are less likely to be medically ready to deploy. Both obesity and low levels of physical fitness increase the risk for injury among active military personnel. In addition, increasing obesity, worsened physical fitness, and a shift to lifestyles that are more sedentary have also made it difficult for law enforcement agencies to find applicants who can meet basic criteria to protect their communities. Across the country, the nearly 20,000 all-volunteer fire departments routinely struggle to recruit qualified first responders.
Both service members and civilians experience trauma. The majority of men and women experience at least one trauma in their lives. Research has shown that traumatic experiences are associated with both behavioral health and chronic physical health conditions, especially those traumatic events that occur during childhood. Substance use (such as smoking, excessive alcohol use, and taking drugs), mental health conditions (such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD), and other risky behaviors (such as self-injury and risky sexual encounters) have been linked with traumatic experiences. There also is growing evidence surrounding the relationship between traumatic experiences and chronic physical health conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and inflammatory diseases.
The Office of the Surgeon General is committed to raising awareness of these issues and working with the defense and law enforcement sector to ensure readiness and resiliency of our communities.
Oral health is essential to the general health and well-being of all Americans and can be achieved by all. However, many Americans continue to experience unnecessary pain and complications from poor oral health that adversely affect their well-being, adding substantial economic and social costs. Poor oral health also impacts our nation's ability to recruit young adults for military service and maintain military readiness. The Surgeon General has commissioned an update to the 2000 Surgeon General’s Report on Oral Health. This report will document the progress in oral health, identify existing knowledge gaps, and articulate a public health vision for the future.
Emerging Public Health Threats
As the Nation’s Doctor, the Surgeon General is responsible for communicating the best available science to the American people. The Surgeon General provides the facts on emerging public health threats, such as Ebola and Zika, gives an update on the government response, and lists steps individuals can take to protect themselves and their families.