Yesterday was September 1st, the first day of National Drug and Alcohol Addiction Recovery Month. Communities across our nation will hold rallies, write letters, and raise awareness about the importance of Recovery. In Washington, D.C., hundreds of parents participated in the Fed Up march to demand help for people who are dying to substance use disorder. We’re all lifting up our voices and calling for change.
What did we get from the White House? One tweet.
First Lady Melania Trump posted a message that acknowledged recovery month and shared the phone number for SAMHSA. But that was it.
Mrs. Trump hasn’t had an easy week in the media. Appearing in stilettos in Hurricane Harvey’s crisis zone, for example, led to accusations that she was out of touch. Some people said that her $50,000 couture jacket was in poor taste, given the current economic conditions.
Honestly, I don’t care what the First Lady wears. What I do care about is whether the recovery movement succeeds.
For decades, recovery advocacy has followed in the footsteps of civil rights movements like the suffragettes, racial equality, and the fight for gay rights. I see a lot of parallels between our push for recovery access and ACT UP: the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power. Like ACT UP, we are working against social and cultural prejudices that sideline people with addiction. We are working towards harm reduction measures that save lives and give people a chance to get sober. We are fighting for equal access to treatment, medical care, and long term recovery support. We are fighting for equal standing in a society that shuns and excludes people with substance use disorder. Think about how many hateful words people have for members of the LGBTQ community. There are just as many for drug users. If our advocacy succeeds, those words will be extinct. Wiped out of our language.
We are fighting for more than just equality. The changes we need to make to save the lives of millions of Americans include reforms in the pharmaceutical industry, the treatment industry, the medical and insurance industries, and criminal justice. We need to stop incarcerating people who are sick and need treatment. We need to offer treatment to anyone who needs it, regardless of their ability to pay. These aren’t difficult concepts, but executing them requires a massive shift in our nation’s approach to addiction.
Grassroots organizations have carried this burden for decades. So have communities, families, and local government. We’ve seen, again and again, that we can do something. We’re not powerless. But we can’t work against institutional apathy. If people don’t listen ― if they look the other way ― there’s nothing we can do to make them care about the hundreds of Americans who die everyday due to drug related causes. Unless someone’s life has been directly impacted by addiction, it’s really hard to help them see that addiction is killing an entire generation of people. This year alone, it’s taken the lives of more Americans than the entire Vietnam War. And that number is still rising.
This issue deserves more than a single tweet. The First Lady has been sparing in how she uses her voice. Her initiative on ending cyberbullying, for example, wasn’t backed by a cohesive agenda. She’s also spoken out about the violence in Charlottesville. But as any advocate knows, acknowledgement isn’t the same as action. We need action if we’re going to save lives.
Activists are already providing incredible examples of how to stop the drug epidemic. We’re working everyday to raise awareness, call for policy reform, and end the health crisis that kills more people than guns and car accidents combined. We have a road map. We have an agenda. We deserve more than a tweet. We deserve real change.
It’s my hope that Mrs. Trump will follow yesterday’s tweet with a plan for ending the drug epidemic. Facing addiction is a bipartisan issue: no matter where we stand politically, this is bigger than party membership. If Mrs. Trump is willing to meet recovery advocates at the table and talk about how we’ll work together to end overdose deaths and decriminalize substance use, I will be there. If Mrs. Trump has more to say than just “call SAMHSA,” I will know we are on the right path.
But until then, we’re going to keep working on our own. Howard Zinn said, “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.” The time for hesitation is over: it’s time for action, not just words.
Melania, join our movement. Together, we really can beat addiction. We need more than words to do this. We need many hands and everyone’s help. We can do this — but only if we all work together. Our agenda offers hope to millions of suffering people in this nation, and their families. We can do this. We hope you’ll support us with more than just your words.
Thanks for the tweet, but the 22 million people desperately in need of treatment — plus 23 million more in long term recovery, who are fighting for their basic rights and families — deserve more.