Local residents take part in UNITE to Face Addiction rally in D.C.

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By Lynn Monson
Home of New Vision

The UNITE to Face Addiction rally on Oct. 4 in Washington, D.C. was an important step in a growing national movement, according to several Ann Arbor-area residents and treatment professionals who attended.

A group from Home of New Vision, one of Ann Arbor’s two largest addiction treatment centers, was among an estimated 30,000 people from around the country who traveled to the event on the grounds of the Washington Monument.

Several people from the Jackson contingent and from Home of New Vision/Ann Arbor attended the Advocacy Day, meeting with the staff of senators Debbie Stabenow and Tim Walberg on upcoming legislature.
HNV founder and CEO Glynis Anderson said the Unite to Face Addition rally promoted the need for better health care for those with the disease of addiction. Several notable national speakers and entertainers emphasized the need to reduce the stigma of addiction for those who have the disease and their families.

“The rally was important because it helps keep the national discussion rolling about the current health care crisis involving addiction,” Anderson said. “People from all walks of life are dying of drug overdoses every day because they aren’t getting the best treatment available. That needs to change and a growing number of Americans are beginning to understand that. It’s a health crisis, not a moral failing.”

The event’s organizing group, Facing Addiction, estimates that 22 million people in this country have addictions and about 23 million are in recovery. About 350 people die each day of addiction-related causes, the group says.

Calling it “the most ignored health crisis in America,” organizers advocated that the millions affected need to come together and speak out to mobilize political support among elected officials who can enact laws improving addiction treatment options.

One of the rally speakers, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, announced the first-ever Surgeon General report on substance abuse, addiction and health, to be released in 2016. Another speaker was Michael Botticelli, the acting director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, who advocates that the country needs to attack the addiction epidemic not as the unsuccessful, decades-old “War on Drugs” but rather as a “War on Recovery.” Dr. Mehmet Oz, host of a syndicated television show, emphasized the need to provide the hope of lasting recovery to those battling addiction. Several of the musical entertainers — the slate line-up included Joe Walsh, Sheryl Crow, Steven Tyler, Jason Isbell, The Fray and John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls — shared their own addiction stories.

Debbie Wright, a Home of New Vision staff member, stayed an extra day to join nearly 600 rally participants who met with their Members of Congress to advocate for various legislation. Wright met with Evan Armstrong, a staffer for Congressman Tim Walberg; Kim Corbin, the health legislative assistant to Sen. Debbie Stabenow; and Greg Mathis, Sen. Gary Peter’s legislative aide. Wright said the legislators were asked to support the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act and another related piece of legislation. She said they were also asked to sign onto a letter asking the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Labor to fully implement and enforce the Mental Health Parity and Substance Abuse Education Act.

“This meeting was a starting point, to develop relationships with legislators and their staff in order to have ongoing dialogue regarding any legislation, and to offer our expertise to our legislators to deal with these complex issues on this or other legislation addressing substance use disorders or criminal justice issues,” Wright said.

Another Home of New Vision staffer, Peer Coordinator Chris O’Droski, said the biggest impact of the day was hearing the U.S. Surgeon General’s speech. “I was not expecting him to be there nor did I expect his announcement (about an addiction study set for next year).  It was a great feeling to hear that the nation’s top doc is joining the fight.”

O’Droski said there needs to be more events like the rally all around the country. He would like to see more focus on peer recovery support services that emphasize multiple pathways to recovery, as well as more recovery services in the criminal justice system.

Lauren Rousseau, a member of the Board of Directors for Home of New Vision and a professor at WMU-Cooley Law School, called the national rally “a beautiful and truly unforgettable event.”

“It was about people in recovery and their allies – their families, friends and loved ones — standing up and saying, ‘We are here.  We are not ashamed.  Addiction is a disease; it is not a crime, it is not a moral failing. It is a public health issue, and it is time we started treating it as such.’ ”

Rousseau said it was powerful to witness so many people set aside the stigma about addiction and openly bond together to fight the disease. “The message from the thousands of people, both in the audience and on the stage, was clear:  We will not remain silent or ashamed any longer.  It is time government policy caught up with science.  Addiction is a health issue, and we need to start saving lives.” Rousseau said proponents of improved health care for addiction are also coming to realize they have political clout as “a constituency of consequence” that votes.

 

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