'Silence' symposium: Panel discussion Jan. 30 focuses on heroin plague

 By Linda Laderman

Legal News
 
What are the critical issues for those working with the millions of people in the U.S. who are addicted to drugs or alcohol? What legislation has been passed to assist families affected by drug abuse? Are first responders given the tools they need to save lives? 
Those and other questions and perceptions about addiction will be addressed by a panel of community leaders at a symposium titled “Silence Equals Death, How The Heroin Epidemic Is Driving Change In Perception, Treatment, & The Law” on Friday, Jan. 30 from 6-9 p.m. at the Auburn Hills Campus of WMU Cooley Law School. 
Cooley Professor of Law Lauren Rousseau is set to moderate the panel comprised of Jodi Debbrecht Switalski, 51st District Sobriety Court judge and co-founder of RADEO (Regional Anti-Drug Education and Outreach); Andre Johnson, president and CEO of the Detroit Recovery Project; Erica Clute, Business Development and Contract Management specialist for Meridian Health Services and regional chairperson of Families Against Narcotics; and John S. Gilbreath, retired administrative law judge and an adjunct professor at Cooley. 
Preceding the panel discussion, the audience will have the opportunity to view “The Anonymous People,” an acclaimed documentary that relates the experiences of a cross section of those who have struggled with addiction. The New York Times described “The Anonymous People” as “A Documentary on Battling Addiction’s Powerful Pull.” More than 23 million people suffer from drug or alcohol addiction in the United States, Professor Rousseau said. 
Rousseau believes “The Anonymous People” is a significant step forward in the fight against addiction because it helps to erase the stigma associated with the disease. “Stigma creates a barrier to treatment and funding. We want to remove the stigma,” she said. 
The film features real stories told by those who are living in long-term recovery. Some are high profile figures; others are people we might meet every day. All have broken their silence about their individual struggles with addiction, according to Rousseau.
Originally, “Silence Equals Death” was the rallying cry for the gay community in the wake of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. It urged people who identified as gay or lesbian to “come out” about their sexual orientation, on the theory that once the public realized gay people were their friends and neighbors, the stigma that reduced funding and treatment options for HIV/AIDS would go away. 
The alarming rise in the incidents of death from opioid use has encouraged those who work in addiction-related professions to apply that call to action to their work. 
 “This has turned out to be a very effective strategy, and is one that ‘The Anonymous People’ advocates the recovery community adopt to help erase the stigma surrounding addiction,” Rousseau said. 
“There has been much media attention given to the exponential rise in opioid use and deaths over the past several years, leading many to claim that our nation is experiencing a heroin and/or opioid epidemic,” Rousseau said. “Between 2007 and 2013, the number of annual heroin users doubled from 370,000 in 2007 to 680,000. In addition, recently released statistics from the federal Center for Disease Control showed that deaths linked to heroin use increased by 39 percent in 2013 as compared to 2012.”
Michigan’s lawmakers have responded to the burden the burgeoning numbers related to addiction places on families and first responders. In October 2014, Governor Rick Snyder signed legislation requiring emergency medical responders to be trained to administer medications to stop overdoses as the patient is transported in emergency vehicles to a medical facility. 
Additionally, the new regulations allow prescribers, under special circumstances, to dispense medication to friends or family of individuals at risk of experiencing a heroin-related overdose. This January, the Governor signed into law an act that gives police officers the authority to carry and administer medication to people who are at risk of a narcotic overdose. 
“With the passage of these laws, Michigan joins 27 other states in recognizing opioid addiction as a disease. The legislation gives people struggling with the disease a chance to find recovery instead of death by overdose. The legislation recognize of that as long as there is life, there is hope,” Rousseau said.
The symposium is free and open to the public. Those interested in attending or needing more information can contact Rousseau at rousseal@cooley.edu.

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