Friends, ­­­­

August 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day. Members of our community from across New York State will be attending overdose awareness events. These events are powerful ways in which we stand together and remember those who have been lost to this epidemic, and raise awareness of overdose through spreading the message that recovery is possible and the tragedy of overdose is preventable.

By attending these events, we are putting advocacy in action. By standing together we raise awareness and reduce the stigma around addiction. By coming out publically, we support each other and acknowledge the collective grief felt by families and friends by remembering those who have met with death or experienced permanent injury as a result of a drug overdose.

Overdose Awareness Day also spreads the message of hope – that the tragedy of overdose death is preventable – and that we are committed to coming out of the shadows and standing tall as advocates for recovery.

Advocacy matters – and we are making a difference, not only in New York State but nationally. After a targeted campaign to speak out against a disastrous health care repeal bill that would have made deep cuts to Medicaid, public outcry here and across the country was successful, saving state initiatives aimed to address the current public health crisis.

Earlier this month, a similar call went out after the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis described the overdose death toll as “September 11th every three weeks.” The commission based their numbers on 2015 Center for Disease Control (CDC) figures that underestimate the number of fatalities at 52,404, while new federal data from 2016 shows the death toll climbing higher towards 60,000.

We pressed the president to declare a national emergency, and he did. So what does this mean for the recovery community and where do we go from here?

Right now in New York State it is estimated that 1.8 million people are addicted to alcohol or drugs. Of that number, only 1 in 10 receive treatment. What if only 1 in 10 cancer patients received treatment?

That doesn’t happen, because we don’t stigmatize that illness in the same way that people addicted to alcohol and other drugs are discriminated against.  But what if we treated addiction like the disease that it is – with continuous, individualized treatment and follow-up for every patient? What if families were included in the treatment of their loved ones so that they can receive support and services as well?

What if people who needed it had access to three FDA-approved medications – methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone?  What if we had robust recovery services and supports for people in all stages of their recovery, including recovery housing, schools and community services? What if we used science to inform our response to this deadly disease and measured our success based on desired outcomes?

We can address this national public health emergency through overdose interventions, prevention, treatment, supporting families impacted by addiction, expanding recovery support services, and reforming our criminal justice system. But we can’t get people into recovery if they die first.

As members of the recovery community, we’ve seen what happens when adequate resources are made available to treat the chronic disease of addiction. We applaud our leaders who are working together to take immediate actions to address the current public health emergency in New York State. We will stand firm to push for the deployment of resources on every level of government.

Your courage, authenticity of voice and passionate commitment will make this a reality.

Stephanie Campbell