WASHINGTON — Thousands of people will gather here this weekend for a rally that organizers hope will propel a national movement to address addiction.
The event is a launching pad for Facing Addiction, a new national nonprofit that aims to be a voice for the 85 million Americans affected by addiction, including young people. College-based recovery groups from around the country are expected to attend the rally.
“Our hope is really this is the day the silence ends. Instead of turning away, we hope people start talking about it,” said Donald McFarland, a spokesman for the Unite to Face Addiction rally.
The event is expected to draw nearly 700 organizations and tens of thousands of people for a day of music and speakers, including U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and Michael Botticelli, director of national drug control policy at the White House.
“We live in a time when addiction touches every segment of our society — our friends, loved ones and our communities,” said Murthy in a statement. “We need to stop treating addiction as a moral failing, and start seeing it for what it is: a chronic disease that must be treated with urgency and compassion.”
The rally comes at a critical moment in the history of how the country thinks about drug and alcohol addiction, organizers said.
Brain science that shows the neurological roots of addiction has helped shift the conversation away from placing blame on individuals for a perceived lack of willpower, said Neil Campbell, executive director of the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse.
“It doesn’t have to be what it used to be — there was such a stigma that people don’t get well,” she said.
McFarland said the rise of opioid abuse and heroin addiction also has helped shift the conversation about addiction, framing it as an urgent public health crisis.
In addition, a growing consensus that mass incarceration is unsustainable has added urgency to the discussion. Too many people who are incarcerated have addiction problems or are imprisoned because of nonviolent, low-level drug offenses, he said.
“It certainly doesn’t make sense any longer. ‘Just say no’ didn’t work, the War on Drugs didn’t work, incarcerating our way out of addiction isn’t working,” he said.
Campbell said the shifting conversation also has the potential to change how policymakers and practitioners approach young people facing addiction.
Those who work with young people have to hear why they turn to alcohol and drugs, not just try to scare them away, she said. Only then can they tailor the right solutions for addiction.
“We have to listen to those reasons. I don’t think we do that enough. We just say, “This is bad for you,’” she said.
More information is available at facingaddiction.org.
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