Michigan unites to 'Face Addiction' at Lansing rally set for June 2nd

It is no secret that the United States is in the midst of the worst drug epidemic in its history.  Since 2000, drug overdose deaths have more than doubled, and beginning in 2013, drug overdose became this country’s leading cause of accidental death. More than 47,000 people died of drug overdose in 2014 – nearly 129 people every day.

Michigan is not immune to this epidemic.  Deaths due to drug overdose have increased exponentially in our state since 1999, reaching more than 1,700 fatalities in 2014. The primary driver, both in Michigan and nationally, is addiction to prescription pain pills and heroin.

On June 2, Unite to Face Addiction-Michigan (UFAM) is hosting an all-day rally at the State Capitol in Lansing to raise awareness of the drug epidemic and to advocate for solutions. UFAM’s mission is to bring together grassroots organizations, recovery community organizations, prevention and treatment organizations, and other stakeholders to pursue common goals where a unified approach will have the greatest impact. 
“There are so many things that need to change – at a policy level and also in terms of public perception – for us to effectively address the growing addiction problem and stop the deaths,” said Lauren Rousseau, a rally organizer. 

Rousseau is a professor at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School in Auburn Hills and sits on the board of directors of two nonprofit organizations focused on addiction treatment and substance abuse prevention.

“There is stigma associated with addiction that has prevented its treatment as a health issue and has created barriers to recovery,” she said.  “Historically, we have treated addiction as a crime, and public perception and government policy reflect this view.  People are afraid to admit they’re struggling..., and treatment resources are inadequate to meet the need.  We are losing a whole generation of young people to opioid and heroin addiction.”

UFAM officials expect a large turnout for the rally.

“This is a state-wide event, and all addiction and recovery organizations are invited, as well as any and all Michigan citizens who are concerned about our addiction crisis,” said Jeannie Richards, president of Bryan’s Hope, a nonprofit focused on opiate education and substance use prevention.  Other partners in brining the rally to Lansing include MiHOPE, Alliance of Coalitions for Healthy Communities, St John Providence, Foundations Recovery Network, Home of New Vision, Capitol Area Project Vox, Personalized Nursing Lighthouse, and Recovery Allies of Western Michigan.

The rally will start at 9 a.m. and will continue all day. People are free to come and go as they please, with speakers taking the stage at approximately 10:30 a.m. The event will showcase many prominent, nationally recognized speakers, including Craig DeRoche, senior vice-president of Advocacy and Public Policy for the Prison Fellowship; Mark Lundholm, a comedian specializing in addiction and recovery humor who has performed on Comedy Central, A&E, CBS, and NBC; Ivana Grahovac, executive director of Austin Recovery; Jodie Debbrecht Switalski, lawyer, former sobriety court judge, and senior associate with the Stutman Group; and Matt Ganem, an award-winning “spoken word” poet who writes about his experiences in heroin addiction and recovery. 

Musical entertainment includes Carly Keyes, winner of the 2015 “Sunlight in the Spirit” award from ASCAP, and The Detroit Rescue Mission Choir, well-known locally for electrifying performances. Multiple organizations will have information tables and there will be "activity tents" offering yoga demonstrations, massage, Reiki and other holistic healing methods, as well as naloxone (Narcan) training.    

Scott Masi, outreach and referral specialist at Brighton Center for Recovery, has a leadership role in organizing the UFAM rally.  As a person in long-term recovery from addiction, Masi is sensitive to the importance of raising awareness about the power and possibility of recovery.
“People struggling with this disease need to know that recovery is possible,” Masi said. “They need to know that life after addiction can be wonderful, exciting, and fulfilling.  Addiction is a disease of isolation.  Stigma keeps people from seeking help, and keeps people in recovery from speaking out.  One important goal of this rally is to show people struggling with this disease and their families that there are a whole lot of people who understand, who care, and who have made it to the other side – to recovery.”   

For more information about the rally, visit the UFAM website at ufamichigan.org.