MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A major medical group is urging doctors and policy makers to think differently when it comes to tackling substance abuse.
Julio Rivera, 42, has been clean for three year, but his addiction to heroin is still a constant fight.
"An everyday battle. Like I said, it's a lifetime battle," he said.
Now the American College of Physicians is taking a radical new stance, recommending substance abuse disorders be treated as a chronic medical condition – not a moral failure.
Dr. Andrew Dunn authored the new guidelines which promote treatment for addicts instead of criminalizing their behavior and throwing them in jail.
"The stigma that's been associated with this condition over years has led to a lack of treatment options," said Dunn, who works at the Mount Sinai Medical Center.
In 2014, the group found only 18 percent of the 22 ½ million Americans with drug or alcohol problems actually received treatment compared to more than 70 percent for hypertension, diabetes and depression.
Rivera found Care at Start, a New York treatment and recovery center.
Dr. Lawrence Brown said the new guidelines are right on target.
"When those key players make a statement as comprehensive as this, it makes a big difference," Brown said.
Rivera is now a peer counselor.
"What I'm doing is getting myself together and helping other people get their lives together as well," he said.
The new recommendations also tell doctors to pay closer attention to guidelines for prescribing addictive painkillers, which continue to fuel the opioid epidemic.
The new guidelines also recommend a national database to keep track of opioid prescriptions to limit overuse of painkillers.
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