By Joe Sullivan
CEO & President of MCAA
I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Washington D.C. in early October and was impressed and pleased with the attention that drug addiction, substance abuse disorders, and recovery are receiving from members of both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives, as well as the Executive Branch.
Participating in the “Unite to Face Addiction” rally on the Washington Mall on October 4th was very exciting. Western Connecticut’s own Greg Williams did a tremendous job as one of the lead organizers of this event. Thousands of people in recovery were joined by hundreds of people who had lost loved ones to opiate overdoses and the message was clear:
We as a nation must do something to reverse the horrible trend of annual increases in drug overdoses that have now become the leading cause of death among young people in our country and that recovery is possible and actually likely if people would do the right things.
The rally included some very popular and well-known musicians and one of them made a significant point when he said that when he was drinking he thought his music was good and now that he listens to it he realizes how bad it was and how much better his music is now that he’s sober. That’s a great metaphor for recovery and the point that it’s not about giving up substances, it’s about gaining so much more.
I also was offered the opportunity to sit in on a panel discussion of the major efforts underway to better prepare prescribers, pharmaceutical houses, and the FDA to confront the nation’s opioid crisis.
I learned that 4 out of 5 people addicted to heroin started out by using prescribed opiates. The United States, which makes up 5% of the world’s population, consumes 80% of the world’s prescription opioids.
United States Senator and former West Virginia Governor, Joe Manchin, posed the question, “Can’t we tolerate any pain in this country anymore?” as he told the story of an 11-year old constituent of his being prescribed oxycodone for a sprained ankle. In addition to Senator Manchin, the panel, which was being moderated by Mary Bono, former Congresswoman from California, included Senators Edward Markey of Massachusetts, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, along with Michael Botticelli, Director of National Drug Control Policy at the White House, and Dr. Mehmet Oz, host of the popular daily program, The Dr. Oz Show, with each sponsoring their own acts to improve and limit the way that opiates are prescribed in this country and at the same time, positively influence treatment access. In the Spring, we are likely to see a report by the Surgeon General on addiction and substance abuse in America.
The last time I saw this much attention to substance abuse problems, treatment, and recovery in this country in Washington was back in the late 60’s and early 70’s.
Finally, a number of us from Connecticut had the opportunity to visit our senators and congressmen while we were in Washington and used it as an opportunity to thank Senator Blumenthal, Senator Murphy, and Congresswoman Esty for their concern and leadership on substance abuse and mental health issues.
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