Source: USA Today
My son Brian’s eight-year struggle with addiction began in high school. Perhaps more tragic, it was not addiction that took his life. On his last day alive, Brian researched suicide notes, wrote one of his own, and lit a candle. The remainder of my life is dedicated to helping others avoid the tragedy my family suffered.
America’s pervasive addiction crisis is intensifying because of COVID-19. To cite one horrific example, suspected overdoses increased 42 percent in May.
Social distancing, which has led to the loss of support from family and friends, has made worse the sense of isolation those who are addicted already feel because of the unjust stigma associated with this illness. Treatment and recovery support also have become more difficult to access because of the pandemic. Worse, COVID-related unemployment is expected to lead to millions more people becoming uninsured, which will make it more difficult for people with substance use disorders to receive treatment.
Our nation has responded to the addiction epidemic by changing prescribing practices for dangerous opioids, increasing funding for treatment and expanding the use of naloxone, a medication that can instantly reverse an overdose. But we have missed one of the most important causes of this devastation — the stigma around addiction.
The key to ultimate change lies in changing the way people think about this disease. Addiction is treatable, and part of that treatment lies in addressing and eliminating the stigma that causes so much shame, loneliness, and ultimately, so much tragedy.
The Movement to End Addiction Stigma helps those who want to learn how to drive change to confront the pervasive stigma in this crisis. It includes a framework for combating addiction stigma — and numerous practical suggestions on how to impart that change.
I often think about my son’s last visit home, four months before he died. Brian looked at me and said, “Dad, I wish that someday people would understand that I’m not a bad person. I am a good person with a bad disease.”
It is time that addiction become a national conversation and safe to discuss at work, in the community and around the kitchen table, because telling our stories, honestly and without shame, is one of the most powerful ways to change hearts and minds.
Breaking down the stigma will open the opportunities for more people to seek high quality treatment and create a path for a full and fulfilling life. It’s too late to bring my son back. But it’s not too late to save the next son, daughter, brother or sister who suffers from addiction and has so much love to bring to their family.
By: Gary Mendell, founder and CEO of Shatterproof, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to reversing the addiction crisis in the United States.