Friday, May 29, 2015

Who Failed Richard Bragg II?

That’s the question being asked by the people who knew him and perhaps even more by those who didn’t, people like my friend and fellow advocate who has taken it upon herself to make sure that his body does not remain unclaimed.   Kim, a total stranger who cared simply because he was another human being who deserved to “be claimed”, reminds us that, as in the Legend of the Starfish, “each one matters”.   Her compassionate response to the death of this young man demonstrates how everyone has someone who cares about them.  However, an opinion still held by some is that people who die from addiction are “those people” who have no one who loves and cares about them and that society will just be that much better off if they die.  Not so.  Thank you, Kim, for contradicting this stereotypical view and reminding us of our humanity.

In the process of making arrangements for a memorial, some tragic information has been revealed.  Richard had a heroin addiction that, according to a friend, he longed to recover from so that he could be a father to his children.  Like so many others, his disease resulted in multiple arrests and incarcerations.  There were 15 that were found.  That means there were at least 15 opportunities for him to get treatment for the disease that was killing him.  Fifteen times there could have been an intervention to redirect the life of Richard Bragg, 15 times that he could have been offered hope for recovery and instead was given another opportunity to continue in his disease.  Fifteen missed opportunities!   If there remains any doubt about incarceration not being treatment and that we cannot incarcerate ourselves out of the problem, Richard Bragg is the tragic proof!

So, who failed Richard Bragg?  Could it be a system that was never created or designed to treat a chronic, progressive, potentially fatal illness?   Why was this system ever expected to treat addiction?  Could it be because there has never been a standard of care for this chronic illness?  Could the reason for that be our archenemy, 'Stigma' and the accomplice 'Discrimination'?   Who can help rid society of these devastating and deadly detriments to recovery?  All of us! 
What have we learned from Richard’s death?  I hope that his death sounds the alarm yet again of the importance of intervention on this disease for whomever, wherever and whenever possible.  Why?  Because each one does matter and it truly is a matter of life and death.  
Thank you, Richard, for reminding us of the work that still needs to be done and for giving us the inspiration to continue doing it.


Monday, May 25, 2015

National Rx Drug Abuse Summit

Four years ago, I attended the first National Rx Drug Abuse Summit in Florida.  It was an exceptional opportunity to connect with others who are dedicated to prevention, treatment and recovery for the disease of addiction.  I met some incredible individuals at that conference and got reconnected with others.  This year I was again able to participate in the Summit, this time, as a presenter in the Education and Advocacy Track.  What an honor and privilege!  Once again, there was an invaluable networking opportunity and so much more. 

The Summit is more than the networking, gathering of information and caliber of speakers who present in the General and Breakout Sessions, it's the overall climate of the Summit.   For me, it's a time of renewal and rejuvenation being surrounded by like-minded people.  It's encouraging and hopeful to hear comments like this one, reportedly from former U.S. Representative Patrick Kennedy, "We know what to do.  We need the political will to do it".   Another striking quote was, "The death rate is a fact.  Everything else is an inference", attributed to William Farr.  And then there is always the amazing Dr. Nora Volkow who spoke in the General Session on Wednesday.  I heard her speak of the issue at hand as not being a "novel problem" and therefore there was a "recipe for forgetting".  She said that what is needed are "sustaining efforts".  In my estimation this speaks to the need for advocacy.  There is no doubt in my mind that it will be  advocates who have the passion, purpose and persistence who will be able to maintain the power and strength to "sustain" the efforts.  

This is a mere sampling of the content that was presented at the Summit.  While there will be something lost in translation by reading power points and possibly viewing a video, the website, does allow for both.  If you have never had the opportunity of being at a conference where the disease of addiction is discussed in a spirit of hope for the future of prevention, treatment and recovery, I sincerely hope that it will soon be one of your memorable life experiences.

I will leave you with an incident that happened on my way from Atlanta to the next destination on our trip.  We had stopped for dinner and as I was cruising along the buffet line, I was touched on the shoulder by one of the servers who said, "I like your shirt".  This simple, yet greatly appreciated, compliment made what had been a very long day.  You see she was complimenting me on my Grateful Life Alumni Picnic t-shirt because of what was on the back of it, which reads: The mission of Transitions is to help individuals, families, and communities to break the cycles of substance abuse, family abuse, violence, crime and poverty. . .

This was yet another hopeful sign that society will one day value recovery, recovery from all kinds of ills.  I hope that I live to see that day. 

Until next time. . .