Imminently, President Obama will stand before the nation and deliver the State of the Union. It's a time for our president to speak directly with the American people and lay out a plan to solve our nation's toughest, most pressing challenges.
Among our most urgent, but least discussed problems is the growing epidemic of addiction in America. Fatal drug overdose has increased more than six-fold over the past 30 years and is now the leading cause of injury death in America. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 120 people die of a drug overdose every day in the U.S. -- that's one every 12 minutes -- and an additional 6,700 people are treated in emergency departments. Addiction is more than just an individual's problem; it is a public health crisis.
I know the pain caused by addiction. I lost my son to this debilitating disease. Shouldering the pain caused by the shame and stigma addiction carries in America, he took his life after being clean for more than a year. My heart cries; it breaks for him every hour of every day. And I know that hearts are breaking all across the country for loved ones lost to this disease.
It doesn't have to be this way.
During the State of the Union, President Obama will outline his vision to strengthen our nation economically and socially. He will discuss the newly announced program to pay for community college for every American who wants it. He'll talk about My Brother's Keeper, an initiative to help young people stay on track. And he'll reference Promise Zones, wherein federal dollars are fostering growth in communities across the nation.
These efforts are all centered on the same goal: invest in America's future so our nation can reach its full potential. It is time for us to channel this exact same goal to build a better, brighter future for our children by putting an end to the epidemic of addiction in America.
There are public policy solutions to help stem the tide of addiction deaths; solutions that our president, his administration, and members of Congress can promote and enact.
We look to the Obama administration and to Congress to offer common sense legislative solutions. Through incentives for states, we must increase access to naloxone, an FDA approved medicine proven to almost always reverse an overdose due to prescription painkillers and heroin. "Good Samaritan Laws" will protect individuals who make the right decision to call for emergency help when someone has overdosed, even if they may be engaged in otherwise illegal activity at the time of the call. We should increase the use of Medication Assisted Therapy and the availability of disposal sites for prescription pain medications. When it comes to treatment, we must expand options for our veterans, recovery resources in high schools and colleges, and programs that provide treatment instead of incarceration. Finally, a national Prescription Drug Monitoring Program needs to be implemented as soon as possible to see results across the U.S. that has already been proven in several states.
We can make a difference for the millions of Americans affected by addition through sensible public policies. But the problem is also societal.
There's a lack of understanding about addiction's root causes, and resources are severely lacking for those suffering from addiction and for their families.
That's why I started the organization Shatterproof, to tackle head on the disease of addiction to alcohol and other drugs. Contrary to the societal perception, addiction is NOT a moral failure, nor is it due to weakness. Research has proven time and time again that addiction is a chronic and relapsing brain disease that exists within a complex cycle of pain and isolation.
My son was just 25 years old when he lost his battle with addiction. This disease is robbing our children of their potential. And all too often, it is the most vulnerable children among us who do not receive the support they need to prevent or overcome addiction. Death from addiction can be avoided if we work to remove the structural and cultural barriers hindering progress. I made a promise to my son before the Clinton Foundation's Health Matters Conference. "Enough. No more Americans suffering alone, feeling ashamed because they have a disease."
We must unite and empower all Americans to fight addiction. If we invest in the future of our communities, we will build a more perfect union. I hope our president in his State of the Union gives a voice to all Americans suffering from the disease of addiction. The millions of citizens affected by this disease deserve our attention and our action on the national stage.
President Obama will likely say "the state of the union is strong." Well, I believe it can be stronger. I believe we are stronger than addiction. I believe we can be shatterproof.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.