I was honored recently to address a roomful of journalists from across the country to discuss harm reduction and treatment access issues in rural communities. Naturally, I discussed the terrible impact of our most recent epidemic. North Carolina lost 1,726 fellow citizens to unintentional drug overdose in 2016, twice the number we lost only 6 years earlier. I reminded folks that there is “nothing new under the sun.” While the current epidemic is measured in a staggering loss of life, we’re no strangers to the negative outcomes associated with inappropriately responding to addiction. Overflowing prisons and jails have been the metric of our failure for decades. Additionally, I was asked to offer a potential new angle for our audience. What stories haven’t been told? What stories haven’t been told enough? I struggled with this task in the back of my mind while I grew outraged sharing information such as:
- We lose two loaded school buses per month in NC to unintentional drug overdose and that number continues to rise;
- 1 in 7 of us have a substance use disorder and we know what causes it and we know how to prevent it and we know how to treat it and we know that all people have the potential to get better than well;
- Only 1 in 10 of us access specialized treatment and what we have been considering appropriate treatment for decades is not;
- Funding and resources for treatment and recovery continue to decline in spite of our growing knowledge and the rising loss of life;
- We continue to deny people systems of compassion and care as we transfer them to systems of control and punishment.
Epiphany. I found the story that has not been told. I proclaimed, “Where is the outrage?!” Whether or not this audience of journalists chooses to run with my suggestion, we may soon know.
Reality. Once again, there is “nothing new under the sun.” I am reminded of an interview our friend Bill White gave a few years back, reflecting on such growing outrage and the need for a new recovery movement… 20 years ago:
“If history is true to form …when resources become restricted or tight, as we transferred people from systems of compassion and care to systems of control and punishment, particularly the prison system, we’re going to see recovering people at some point reach critical mass and begin to express outrage at that policy and begin to talk about the need for recovery and the renewal of treatment resources… …and begin to dismantle the discriminatory structures that really have created obstacles for people seeking and maintaining recovery over time and building resources that are going to dramatically widen the doorway of entry into long-term recovery for people.”
Yes, as Bill illustrates, we’ve been here before and a movement started and progress was made. What then shall we do now? Shall we surrender to the inevitability of ebbing and flowing outrage and apathy – of demanding sweeping change and accepting piecemeal progress? No.
Perhaps, this is a new day… another new recovery movement . I leave you with three calls to action you cannot ignore.
Join the movement!
Sustain the movement!
Share the movement!
Thank you for being part of the solution.
Donald McDonald, MSW, LCAS