Obama: Addiction is a preventable disease

— Before an audience at the National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta, President Barack Obama said he wasn’t sure what it was that tipped his life away from addiction. “I wasn’t always as responsible as I am today. In many ways I was lucky, because for whatever reason addiction didn’t get it’s claws on me … except cigarettes,” he said.

“Regardless how individuals get into theses situations. We don’t know everything. There may be genetic components. Addictions may be different for different people. What we do know is there are steps that can be taken to get through addiction and get to the other side, and that is under-resourced.”

The President came to Atlanta on the heels of announcing several initiatives earlier in the day to expand addiction treatment and access. He sat on a panel moderated by CNN’s chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, to discuss the ravaging opioid epidemic across the country.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 78 Americans die every day by overdosing on opioids, a family of drugs that includes legal pain medications such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, along with illicit drugs such as heroin.

On the panel with the President was Dr. Leana Wen, health commissioner for the city of Baltimore, 35-year old Crystal Oertle of Shelby, Ohio, and 28-year old Justin Luke Riley, the president and CEO of Young People in Recovery. Oertle and Riley shared their personal journeys of recovery.

Oertle was 20 years old when she started using Vicodin recreationally. She said it went from there to other prescription drugs, and when those drugs were no longer available she turned to heroin. She would use while her children were at home. She has been in recovery for the past year.

The President said it would take hearing more stories like this to focus attention on the under-resourced crisis. “The public doesn’t fully appreciate the scope of the problem,” he said, which is why he came to Atlanta “It helps to provide a greater spotlight on how to solve this problem.”

President Obama said that to fully understand and solve the issue of addiction and drug abuse, there needed to be a fundamental change in understanding of addiction as a preventable disease from law enforcement to doctors to the public.

Wen agreed, saying the current attitudes toward addiction and treatment were “unscientific, inhumane and frankly ineffective.” They too frequently ended up criminalizing addiction, she added.

If you must smoke, do it away from the kids

There is a growing body of evidence that children’s exposure to smoking increases their risk of heart disease as an adult.

Researchers in a study out this week in the journal Circulation, found that simply having a parent who smoked, but tried to limit their child’s exposure to their smoking, increased a child’s risk of heart disease as an adult by nearly twice that of a child whose parents didn’t smoke at all.

For kids whose parents smoked in front of them, and didn’t really limit their exposure, their risk for heart disease was four times higher than children of non-smokers.

Researchers tracked more than 1,500 Finnish children over 20 years. First collecting data between 1980 and 1983, measuring the level of cotinine in their blood. Cotinine is left behind in the blood after nicotine exposure. The researchers then followed up again in 2001 and 2007 to measure the level of carotid plaque in the now grown adults. Those children who had measured with higher levels of cotinine also had higher levels of carotid plaque, as an adult. A build-up of the plaque can lead to heart disease.

“This paper adds to the evidence base that exposure to secondhand smoke during childhood increases risk of heart disease and adult,” said Stanton Glantz, a professor at the University of California San Francisco’s Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education.

According to the Center for Disease Control, nearly 60% of children between the ages of 3 and 11 are exposed to second hand smoke, and they are most likely to be exposed to it at home.

To reduce children’s exposure to secondhand smoke, don’t smoke in front of children, choose child care providers and sitters who don’t smoke in front of children, and even if you don’t smoke in front of children, make sure to change your shirt after smoking, especially if you are going to be near children or infants.

Anti-smoking efforts have saved 8 million lives

— Fifty years ago, Surgeon General Dr. Luther Terry, made a bombshell announcement: “The strongest relationship between cigarette smoking and health is in the field of lung cancer. There is a very strong relationship, and probably a causal relationship, between heart disease and cigarette smoking.”

It was the first time a surgeon general said that smokers had a 70% greater chance of death and that heavy smokers were 20 times more likely to develop lung cancer than non-smokers.

The landmark report launched one of the biggest public health campaigns in U.S. history, including warning labels on cigarettes, cigarette advertising banned on TV and radio, graphic public service announcements, and anti-smoking laws.

Now a new study in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association — which has devoted its entire issue to tobacco and smoking — estimates that tobacco control efforts since the first Surgeon General’s report have added 20 years of life for 8 million Americans. Without tobacco control, half of those Americans would have died before the age of 65.

“The report and subsequent tobacco control efforts represent the most dramatic and successful public health campaign in modern history, in terms of benefit to the entire population,” says the study’s senior author, David Levy, a population scientist at the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The authors used data from the National Health Interview Surveys to estimate what life without tobacco control would be like, and compared it to smoking and life expectancy trends since 1964.

They also found that tobacco control has extended life expectancy by 2 years for men, and more than 1.5 years for women over the age of 40.

That first surgeon general’s report was a flash point for many Americans. As Stanton Glantz, professor of tobacco control at the University of California, explains: “The surgeon general’s report was the beginning of changes in public attitudes in smoking, which began to lay the foundation for a lot of the progress that we’ve seen today.”

Warnings began appearing on cigarette packages across the country. The first simply said: “Smoking could be hazardous to your health.”

Over the years, the warnings have become more direct. In 1970, the label read, “The Surgeon General has determined that cigarette smoking is dangerous to our health.”

Today, warning labels flat-out say: “Cigarettes are addictive”; “Cigarettes cause fatal lung disease”; and “Smoking can kill you.”

Today, almost half of all U.S. residents are covered by some sort of indoor smoking ban, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And while progress has been made, CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden told CNN’s Sanjay Gupta that there is still work to do.

“Well, it’s kind of a glass half empty, glass half full story,” Frieden said. “On the one hand, half as high of a percentage of adults smoke, on the other hand it remains the leading preventable cause of death in this country, and if you smoke, quitting is by far the single most important thing you can do to improve your health.”

More than 440,000 Americans still die from smoking every year, according to the CDC. And approximately 3,900 people under the age of 17 will pick up a cigarette for the first time this year.


™ & © 2014 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.