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Addiction has been quite the topic of conversation lately. With the opioid epidemic exploding across the country, the Unite to Face Addiction rally in early October putting addiction on the national agenda, and the 2016 presidential candidates all talking about substance abuse issues, addiction is finally getting the attention it desperately needs.

People are finally starting to understand that addiction is not only a problem that the substance abuser and their family have to face, but one that the entire community needs to work together on in order to get it under control. For too long addiction has been looked at as a moral failing, or weakness of character or only affecting a certain demographic but now that the opioid crisis has turned that way of thinking upside down communities are realizing that something has to be done NOW!

Addiction is a public health crisis and can not only destroy families but entire communities by draining public resources like police, health, and legal services. It also has an economic impact because if businesses are in areas where substance abusers hang out, people will avoid those areas and those businesses.  In my city, we have a beautiful downtown Green which is divided into an upper and lower park area. Everyone tends to frequent the lower Green because the upper Green has become a haven for drug users and homeless people. There are businesses located across the street from the upper Green and I know that they are experiencing some fallout from the activity that takes place there.

What Do We Do?

So if we know there is a crisis, and we know something has to be done, why isn’t more happening? I feel the only way real change is going to take place is if the community makes it happen. We as a community have to demand that our local elected officials come up with common sense policy and laws that stress treatment instead of incarceration. We as a community have to demand that our police officers receive more substance abuse training so that they know how to properly deal with someone who has an addiction issue and can steer them toward treatment rather than the legal system. We as a community have to demand that treatment is accessible and affordable to all those that need it, including their families!

We have to make these changes happen on a grassroots level in our local cities and towns and show that they are successful and then we can seek change on a national level. By showing that we can successfully address the addiction issue in our local communities, we can force the federal government to follow our lead and not reinvent the wheel. Time is of the essence when dealing with addiction, so if the federal government can duplicate existing local programs and adapt them on a national level, it will save millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives.

I’ve recently started having conversations with local community members and organizations about addiction and what we can do to spread education, increase outreach, change policy and break stigma. What I’ve noticed is that when I start talking about addiction and sharing my personal story about losing my brother to alcoholism and having a spouse and sister in long-term recovery, it seems to really connect with people. I see a lot of heads nodding as I tell my story, and they say how much they appreciate hearing a different perspective as well as giving a voice to their feelings. Sharing our stories is the most powerful thing we can do to break stigma and raise awareness because everyone knows someone who has dealt with addiction.

Advocate for Change

Addiction can seem like a huge problem that is difficult to deal with, and while it can be complicated it is not impossible to get under control. One of the first things you need to do once you decide to start advocating for addiction is to find other people who are willing to take on this issue with you. Once you start looking, you’ll be amazed at how easy it is to find these people because they’re all around and it is such a relief to know that you don’t have to take on this battle alone.

When I decided to start speaking out on behalf of families battling addiction, I had no idea my story would touch so many people. It has been incredibly motivating and inspiring to talk to other families who have gone through or are going through the struggle with addiction, and helping them see that there is life after addiction. Even if you’ve suffered the loss of a loved one to addiction, that loss doesn’t have to be in vain if you share your story with others so they don’t have to experience the same. Advocacy has been so good for me because in helping others, I help myself and it has had a powerful impact on my recovery.

Speaking out about addiction is not for the faint of heart. It means sharing intimate details with people about some of the darkest moments of your life and dealing with emotions and issues you may not be comfortable with, let alone share with others. But addiction is bigger than one person or family; if helping millions of others is the price of some discomfort then that’s a price I’m willing to pay!

Nadine Herring is the owner of Virtually Nadine, a virtual assistant company that provides online administrative support and social media management to addiction specialists and social service organizations. I specialize in working with this undervalued and overworked field to help them deal with the time consuming process of running an organization.

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