UNITE To Face Addiction Plans Massive Rally In Nation's Capital To Spark Awareness, Change

By Regina Walker 07/17/15

Addiction impacts 1/3 of American households. 90% of people who need treatment do not receive it. The government has spent over $1 trillion on the failed drug wars.

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On Sunday, October 4, 2015, on the National Mall in Washington, DC, a historic rally called UNITE To Face Addiction will occur. The aim of the rally is to address the addiction crisis that is continuing to grow in the USA. The longer term goal, however, is to increase awareness, as well as increase treatment options, destigmatize addiction, and advocate for the government to implement evidence-based policies and regulatory practices in order to ensure more effective strategies for supporting addiction recovery. While UNITE To Face Addiction is a new event, the organization, named Facing Addiction—its members, founders, and participating organizations—hope that this rally will act as a catalyst to begin a grassroots level transformation of how addiction is viewed, and how it's treated, in America.

This is not an AA rally! There are many pathways to recovery and many pathways to improving public safety. 

Greg Williams is a co-founder of UNITE To Face Addiction, as well as its campaign director. He is known by many as the director of the film, The Anonymous People, a feature-length documentary that looks specifically at the scope and seriousness of the problem of addiction as it's faced, not in sensationalist tabloid stories about celebrities, or on reality TV, but in real life, by over 20 million Americans. He shared with me his hopes and plans for the organization, and what it, and he, hope to achieve at the upcoming rally in October.

First, as the founder of UNITE To Face Addiction, what do you hope to achieve through the organization?

UNITE To Face Addiction is a historic gathering to raise awareness and demand solutions to the addiction crisis. It is being built from the energy of the emerging grass-roots advocacy movement that has taken shape over the last 20 years. 

The event is a collaborative effort bringing together diverse stakeholders to stand up for the 22 million people suffering from addiction and the more than 350 lives lost each day to alcohol and other drug problems in America. Twenty-three million others are in recovery, and the time has come for the afflicted and the affected to “come out” in a big way to humanize the addiction crisis and open people’s hearts to change. 

This rally will not only create awareness around the addiction crisis, but similar to the AIDS Quilt, or The People’s Climate March, this event will bring together this grassroots constituency to collectively demand action from our policymakers. Standing united we can at last end the silence around the public health solutions to addiction, and shift perceptions about addiction to help the country realize that we can no longer passively ignore this massive issue tearing millions of families and communities apart.

What are the goals of the rally and whom do you hope to have participate?

We're holding our rally on The National Mall in Washington, DC, simply because this is a national crisis and deserves national attention. It is taking shape as a transformative event, because for the first time in history, tens of thousands of people will join together, come out of the shadows and face addiction publicly. Americans need to understand that addiction is preventable and treatable, that far too many of us have been incarcerated and that people can and do get well. It is not hopeless—there are many things we can and should be doing—but we need to get assertive and vocal. Understanding that addiction is a health-care problem, not a crime, does indeed change everything. 

Only a few months into the organizing effort, we are excited to announce that we now have over 200 partnering organizations joining us to mobilize individuals and families for the rally. We expect this number to balloon to over 500 in the coming weeks. You can see the full list on our website FacingAddiction.org. This diverse collaboration of prevention, treatment, recovery, criminal justice, drug policy, and other impacted groups is absolutely unprecedented. It is a big tent model that will bring together a mosaic of multi-faceted solutions to the current crisis. 

Later this summer, we'll be able to announce specific details about the event itself, but we anticipate the world will get to hear from major entertainers, public figures, athletes, health-care professionals, faith leaders, labor leaders, and current policy leaders on how addiction has impacted their lives and communities and what collectively we can do to find a better path forward.

How can people who are interested get involved both in the organization and the rally?

We encourage everyone to visit our website at FacingAddiction.org, follow us on Twitter @FacingAddiction and like our UNITE To Face Addiction Facebook page. We are focusing on turning out a large crowd on October 4, 2015. On our website, folks can sign up to attend the rally, as well as volunteer to help. We are encouraging people to sign us as bus captains and commit to filling a bus from their hometown—our outreach team is in place to help them get organized. We're also asking people to sign up as ambassadors and work with us to spread the word about the rally.

The UNITE To Face Addiction rally is being organized by Facing Addiction Inc., a 501(c)3 organization dedicated to finding solutions to the addiction crisis, as well as an independent coalition of national, state, and local non-profit organizations. It is very expensive to hold this kind of event on the National Mall and we greatly would appreciate donations—https://facingaddiction.nationbuilder.com/donate—to support ensuring this moment be as large and impactful as the crisis demands.

The effort stands for a public health response to the addiction crisis. This means a big tent including partners like ASAM, Criminal Justice Groups, Mental Health Stakeholders, etc. 

What are your thoughts regarding much of the in-fighting in the field—and even among those in recovery, or seeking treatment—about the nature of addiction and the varying ideas about appropriate treatment; and his views on the multiple beliefs about and approaches to, addiction.

This is not an AA rally! There are many pathways to recovery and many pathways to improving public safety. The bottom line is addiction is a complex public health issue that demands a multi-faceted public health response. We don’t just treat diabetes one-way and have public debates over the pathway that “everyone” should use. We allow the medical community to have space and offer patients patient-centered care and empower them to choose the pathway to wellness they support.

If only addiction stakeholders could stop circling the wagons and shooting inward and begin to circle the wagons and shoot outward at the size and scope of this issue and that it’s not about the solution, but about the many solutions and a menu of options. Until we change the acute care system/response we currently exist under for addiction—a chronic health problem—outcome measures of any pathway need to be significantly scrutinized because rarely does anyone—regardless of their pathway to recovery—actually receive what would look like a chronic health model for other health conditions. 

Long-term recovery from addiction is a reality for over 23 million Americans, one of our nation’s best-kept secrets. Regardless of the paths people have chosen to achieve recovery, their lives and the lives of their families, friends, neighbors, co-workers and communities are vastly improved as a result. They are the living proof that there are real solutions to the devastation of addiction.

While recovery from addiction is a reality, more than 350 Americans die from alcohol or other drugs on average each day—some 135,000 people each year—more than who die from either homicides or motor vehicle accidents. Another 22 million Americans are still suffering from addiction and the majority never receive any help.

Where is the national outrage about this needless loss of life, the costs to families and the economy, and more importantly, the demand for solutions? We know that addiction is preventable, treatable, and people can and do get well. Too many of those affected have been incarcerated, and for decades they and others have been afraid to speak up about the failed policies and poor care due to long-standing stigma and discriminatory public policies. And, for too long, a great majority of people connected to addiction have remained silent.

The time is now to break that silence.

Regina Walker is a regular contributor to The Fix. She last wrote about the role of DBT in the treatment of addiction.

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Regina Walker is a licensed psychotherapist in NYC. She has written for multiple publications and is an avid photographer. You can find her on Linkedin or follow her on Twitter.