Press Room

State and Territorial Health Officials Applaud Surgeon General’s First Ever Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health

ARLINGTON, VA (Nov. 17, 2016)The Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) commends U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy for issuing a landmark report on alcohol, drugs, and health, and remains committed to helping state and territorial health departments enhance prevention efforts, expand access to treatment, and ensure that recovery is possible for everyone struggling with substance use disorders and addiction.

“Substance misuse and addictions must be recognized as public health issues, and not just a concern of the criminal justice system,” says Dr. Jay Butler, ASTHO president and chief medical officer for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. “We now know that addictions are chronic conditions involving brain function, and substance misuse is often deeply rooted in early life events and social factors. To truly make an impact, we must make these connections to create and implement effective, science-based responses.”

Launched in September 2016, ASTHO’s President’s Challenge, led by Dr. Butler, centers around public health approaches to preventing substance misuse and addictions. Through the challenge, ASTHO hopes to further unite and rally state health officials, affiliates, and partners to take action over the next year on this critical and urgent public health issue within states and communities.

Since 2012, ASTHO has convened state agencies, healthcare and mental health professionals, third-party payers, researchers, and community-based partners to identify actionable steps to better understand and address prescription drug abuse. “This report marks an important turning point in our nation’s response to substance use disorders and addiction, and further exemplifies the need to support health departments in taking steps to address substance misuse through a comprehensive approach,” says Dr. Michael Fraser, ASTHO Executive Director. “We look forward to continued partnership with our members, federal agencies, local health departments, and other organizations working to address the many issues we face related to misuse and abuse of drugs and alcohol.”

Substance misuse and addictions to alcohol, prescription drugs, and illicit substances are long-standing but growing problems in the United States. Over 20 million people have substance use disorders, and 12.5 million Americans reported misusing prescription pain relievers in the past year, according to HHS. Addressing drug and alcohol misuse has been a top priority for health officials across the nation.

The Surgeon General’s report includes many ways that all Americans can get involved in preventing drug and alcohol misuse. Specific actions that state health leaders can take include:

  • Providing leadership, guidance, and vision in supporting a science-based approach to addressing substance use-related health issues.
  • Improving coordination between social service systems and the health care system to address the social and environmental factors that contribute to the risk for substance use disorders.
  • Implementing criminal justice reforms to transition to a less punitive and more health-focused approach.

“We aren’t going to treat our way out of this problem of misuse and addiction, nor are we going to arrest our way out of it,” says Fraser. “Instead, we have to focus on preventing misuse in the first place. The Surgeon General’s report is a great way for all Americans to get engaged on this issue and promote healthy behaviors at home, at work, in our communities, and in our states.”

For more information about ASTHO’s 2017 President’s Challenge, visit


ASTHO is the national nonprofit organization representing the public health agencies of the United States, the U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia, as well as the more than 100,000 public health professionals these agencies employ. ASTHO members, the chief health officials of these jurisdictions, are dedicated to formulating and influencing sound public health policy and to ensuring excellence in state-based public health practice.