Ending shame to save our children’s lives

I received a call just before the holidays from someone interested in donating to one of our prevention programs. It’s not often that we are sought out by a prospective donor. The importance of our work seems largely obscured by the prevailing societal disdain for addicts. We all know that this country has waged a “war on drugs” for several decades now, resulting in our criminalizing users rather than minimizing the flow of illegal substances onto our streets . This means many of those needing help are met with judgment and typically given minimal access to short-term resources if not incarcerated.

So I was quite interested to understand what had prompted this unexpected call. My heart sank as I listened to the all too familiar story of loss, grief, heartbreak and shock. The day prior to our conversation, the caller’s best friend had lost her son to a drug overdose. They had every reason to believe this young man did not intend to die, but rather that he thought that this time when he went to get high it might be different. He was ready to give it up. He was only 21.

There are no words.

Yet, this I know…

Shame isolates.

Addiction kills.

Recovery is possible.

It is estimated that only 10% of the 20,000,000 American adults who are struggling with drug addiction will get help this year. Can you imagine if only 1 in 10 cancer patients could get help? What if tens of thousands of people in the SF Bay Area were diabetic but afraid to ask for treatment? Either of these situations would be considered an epidemic. But this is exactly what is happening with drug addiction. Addiction is taking lives every day. In fact as many people are dying today from drug overdose as the numbers of deaths during the height of the AIDS epidemic. Where are the marches? How can we stay silent? So many deaths that can be prevented. This cannot be acceptable!

After receiving the painful phone call in December, we set up a link on our website for those wanting to express their condolences to the family of Max Walker – the young man who lost his life to addiction. Friends, classmates, colleagues and community-members have been making donations in his memory. They are supporting COR’s prevention programs that reach youth in our community who still have a fighting chance to find their way. These are not the types of donations with which we want to build our programs. Yet the work becomes that much more vital and personal knowing who is supporting us and why they care.

I did not know Max Walker, yet my heart aches for his family and friends. I know this dreaded call. And so do too many other families. I am grateful that Max’s parents found us and I am moved by their honesty, courage and desire to end stigma so others won’t have to experience what they have. Their call echoes the urgent need for on-going prevention, treatment, AND long-term recovery support for all those battling addiction. It is time that treating addiction and supporting recovery become a shared public priority.

Long-term recovery is possible.

I am living proof of this.

Our vision at COR is a world where there is freedom from addiction.

May this be the year that we reach those who need help before the crisis, before the tragedies. By ending the shame and stigma of addiction, we can help more people find and stay in recovery.

If you care to please get more involved. Join me, the COR team and others on May 1, 2016, at Crissy Field in San Francisco for the Road to Recovery 5K. Let’s unite as a community to show that long-term recovery from addiction is our priority. Register here.