In Washington D.C., a new generation rises up in fight against addiction

Posted on: October 14th, 2015 by sobrietyresources No Comments

In Washington DC

Laura Haven, left, and Luke Kassa, both of Baltimore, Maryland, sing along to a song performed by John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls at the first ever UNITE to Face Addiction rally. Both said they are in recovery. Merrily Cassidy/Cape Cod Times

  • By K.C. Myers kcmyers@capecodonline.com
  • Posted Oct. 5, 2015 at 2:00 AM Updated Oct 5, 2015 at 7:38 AM

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Imagine a rock concert with no one drinking or using drugs.

Imagine that concert with Joe Walsh of the Eagles, who battled cocaine and alcohol addiction for more than 20 years, singing about how it was hard for him to leave a party because he could not find the door.

That show happened on the National Mall on Sunday. Instead of drugs and alcohol, the thousands of fans at the first ever UNITE to Face Addiction rally were there to celebrate recovery and fight for those lost to addiction and the countless others still struggling.

Harwich native Michael O’Malley, 29, was among them.

O’Malley’s journey to the nation’s capital was a peak among many valleys in his short life.

“I was part of the OxyContin generation,” he said. “And I was part of the heroin epidemic.”

View a photo gallery from the rally in Washington, D.C.

UNITE to Face Addiction was organized by Greg Williams, who founded the nonprofit Facing Addiction and made the documentary “Anonymous People.” It was part concert and part political.

“Today is the day when the silence ends,” Williams told the crowd.

Between sets by Walsh and Goo Goo Dolls singer John Rzeznik, speakers included recovering addict and former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, Michael Botticelli, the director of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, and U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy.

“I am with you,” Murthy told a cheering crowd Sunday.

“UNITE to Face Addiction will mark the first time our nation will collectively stand up to addiction, a health problem that impacts 1 in 3 households,” Williams stated before the event. “Twenty-two million Americans are currently suffering from a substance use disorder, and more than 23 million others are living in recovery.”

As a point of comparison, more than 29 million people in the United States have diabetes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But, unlike diabetes, treatment for the disease of addiction is underfunded by insurance and stigmatized by society.

As Kennedy told the crowd, the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 is still ignored by insurance companies.

“The bottom line is, the insurance industry isn’t following the federal law,” Kennedy said.

Dozens of Massachusetts residents joined this rally, including Gosnold on Cape Cod president and chief executive officer Raymond Tamasi.

“Today is the day when the silence ends,” Williams told the crowd.

Between sets by Walsh and Goo Goo Dolls singer John Rzeznik, speakers included recovering addict and former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, Michael Botticelli, the director of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, and U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy.

“I am with you,” Murthy told a cheering crowd Sunday.

“UNITE to Face Addiction will mark the first time our nation will collectively stand up to addiction, a health problem that impacts 1 in 3 households,” Williams stated before the event. “Twenty-two million Americans are currently suffering from a substance use disorder, and more than 23 million others are living in recovery.”

As a point of comparison, more than 29 million people in the United States have diabetes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But, unlike diabetes, treatment for the disease of addiction is underfunded by insurance and stigmatized by society.

As Kennedy told the crowd, the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 is still ignored by insurance companies.

“The bottom line is, the insurance industry isn’t following the federal law,” Kennedy said.

Dozens of Massachusetts residents joined this rally, including Gosnold on Cape Cod president and chief executive officer Raymond Tamasi.

“This is kind of emotional,” said Tamasi, surveying the huge stage and thousands of people standing together to destigmatize addiction.

“We’re at the dawn of a new era,” he said. “This is an illness, a misunderstood illness.”

O’Malley’s own struggle mirrored many of the speakers on stage.

Beginning in 2000, when he was 14 years old, his friend encouraged him to look inside his father’s medicine cabinet, where they found and began to take Vicodin.

At the Harwich High School library, he and his friends played table hockey with their Vicodin pills without knowing the painkillers were dangerous.

“No one realized it back then,” he said.

He became hooked and began stealing money from his father’s wallet while his father showered in the morning.

He was charged with his first felony when he was 18, he said. He has a criminal record with about 16 felonies. He sold drugs and robbed his neighbors.

O’Malley has done time in jail and had more than three years of recovery when he enjoyed a life in the Boston music industry. He has been clean for several months after his last relapse this winter. O’Malley works at the Massachusetts Organization for Addiction Recovery, helping promote public policies related to addiction.

This weekend he came to Washington, D.C. to be part of a new generation, one that knows personally what it’s like to be controlled by drugs, to commit crimes, to be hated and feared. And if the advocacy at the UNITE to Face Addiction Rally takes hold, he may know what it’s like to be understood as sick with a brain disease.

O’Malley said the rally gives him hope.

“For the first time on a national level to see all these people are here,” he said. “It’s amazing. It’s a great demonstration that everyone is affected.”

“Addiction is a disease,” Botticelli said to the crowd of thousands. “Jails and prisons should not be the treatment of choice.”

“I’d like to go to the Harwich Town Meeting and say, ‘When I use OxyContin and heroin, I will steal from you and I’m a terrible person to my family and to my community. But this is how I got better … I went to treatment.’

You cannot criminalize it,” he said.

People from all over the United States of every color and age stood before the giant stage on the National Mall. They wore T-shirts bearing photos of lost loved ones and slogans that told the world their view on addiction.

“By our silence, we let others define us,” read one shirt. “Visual, valuable, vocal,” was printed on another. The event’s invocation was done by leaders of churches, mosques and a Buddhist temple.

Afterward, Tamasi and other treatment professionals from Massachusetts plan to spend two days in Capitol Hill talking to policymakers and legislators.

“We have to keep up the momentum,” Tamasi said.

As for O’Malley, he plans to continue working to make sure the public understands addiction is a disease.

“I know what a choice is. I know what a habit is. I have plenty of those,” he said. “But this is different. I’ve cried using (drugs) because what your brain is telling you to do is, ‘Do it or you’ll die.’”

— Follow K.C. Myers on Twitter: @KcmyersCCT.

Watch videos from the weekend rally against drug addiction

http://www.capecodtimes.com/article/20151005/NEWS/151009712

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