More Americans are suffering from substance misuse than cancer, a new report has claimed.

Dr Vivek Murthy, the U.S surgeon general, claims one in seven people living in the United States are abusing drugs or alcohol – almost 21 million in total. And every day, 78 people in the country will die as a result of overdosing on an opioid.

Dr Murthy has now called for more to be done to tackle drug and alcohol addiction, saying substance misuse is a public health crisis.

His report, entitled Facing Addiction in America, claims that the number of people dying from prescription painkiller overdoses has increased four-fold since 1999. And a federal survey on drug use shows that more than 2.4 million people in the United States are dependent on either heroin or synthetic opioids.

The report claims that doctors are prescribing more pain relief and that people who have become addicted to these legal drugs are more likely to go on to take heroin once their supply runs out. It suggests that around three out of four people who start taking heroin first got hooked on prescription opioids.

But Dr Murthy says just one in 10 Americans struggling with drug or alcohol addiction is actually given treatment to help them combat their problem.

Substance misuse is a public crisis

He said: “Substance-use disorders represent one of the most pressing public health crises of our time. We must help everyone see that addiction is not a character flaw – it is a chronic illness that we must approach with the same skill and compassion with which we approach heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.”

The financial impact of alcohol abuse in America was estimated at $249 billion a year while drug addiction has an annual cost of $193 billion.

Dr Murthy added: “I am issuing a new call to action to end the public health crisis of addiction. How we respond to this crisis is a moral test for America.”

Barack Obama’s 2010 Affordable Care Act made treatment for addiction an essential health benefit. But it is not yet clear how treatment for substance misuse will be affected when Donald Trump becomes president early next year.

Drug testing can play an important role in recovery and rehabilitation as it can identify a substance misuse problem and help monitor an individual’s progress with giving up drugs or alcohol. AlphaBiolabs offers a range of testing services to organisations, courts, local authorities, businesses and members of the public.

Employers can also use post-rehab testing to help members of staff with substance abuse issues return to the workplace. The tests can be used to monitor their progress as part of a wider support plan and are an effective way of giving employees a second chance without putting safety at risk.