Anti-Stigma Rally In D.C. Shares Stories Of Loss And Redemption

By McCarton Ackerman 10/06/15

Thousands rallied at the National Mall on Sunday in support of those affected by addiction.

Steven Tyler singing

Thousands of people attended a rally this past Sunday at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., hoping to end the stigma surrounding drug and alcohol addiction, and to support those who are dealing with it now.

Several prominent individuals were also in attendance to deliver speeches, including U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy and Michael Botticelli, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. The event also included performances from Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler, Sheryl Crow, and The Fray. 

With one in three households and 85 million people nationwide affected to some degree by drug addiction, according to the organization Facing Addiction, the rally also became a bonding ground for individuals and families to share their pain.

“It is a national health-care crisis,” said Donald McFarland, communications director for Facing Addiction. “The truth of the matter is, ‘Just say no’ didn’t work and the War on Drugs failed.”

Many of those in attendance had personally lost a loved one due to drug addiction. Kari Rhodes, of Erie, Pa., said she is struggling with the heroin overdose death in January 2014 of her 20-year-old daughter, Deandra Sams. She was found unresponsive by Rhodes’ 12-year-old daughter, Shayla. Last summer, she lost her 18-year-old son, Sam, to the same addiction.

“I just feel I failed in so many ways,” she said. “From the day they started doing heroin, you saw nothing but doom and gloom. I just feel like I have to stand up for them.”

But there were also stories of redemption at the rally. Nico Doorn, 25, overcame his heroin addiction to become a detox counselor. Many others who showed up have also won their battle with drugs and alcohol.

“Just treat them like a human being,” said Amber Latoroco, a detox counselor working in the Philadelphia area. “They have no self-esteem, they don’t know how to feel or what to feel, all the bridges are broken and you’re in the gutter. And you’re looking for a way out.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.