The Voices Project Partners With Google To End Addiction in America

The Voices Project is proud to collaborate with Google for its Recovery Month launch of the Recover Together Initiative. This groundbreaking collaboration puts recovery voices front and center at a time when millions of Americans are struggling with substance use disorder.

Google’s Recover Together campaign includes personal stories from people in sustained recovery, including recovery advocate and Voices Project founder Ryan Hampton. Ryan shared his story about his decade-long battle with heroin addiction, which took him from a promising career in the White House to panhandling for change outside a gas station. His addiction stole years from his life, but in recovery, Ryan is working hard to break the stigma and encourage others to talk openly about their health.

The Voices Project supported the Google initiative by providing storytelling, resources, and insight into the national crisis. People come to Google every day to seek information on addiction and recovery; in fact, just last month, we saw an all-time high in search interest for “rehab near me,” “addiction treatment near me,” and “how to help an addict.” The Voices Project is proud to help Google, and millions of people in need, find the answers to those questions.

On September 12, the 30th anniversary of National Recovery Month, every visitor to google.com in the U.S. will see a home page promotion aimed to spread awareness about recovery tools. This will link to Google’s new website, “Recover Together,” which provides resources and tools to those in recovery, including:

Recovery Maps Locator: this tool will allow users to quickly find 33,000+ locations that offer recovery support services (including school-based support and family support services). It shows 80,000+ recovery support meetings all across the country (AA, NA, Al-Anon meetings, SmartRecovery, etc.)

Naloxone Locator: Google Maps will integrate locations where users can easily and quickly find Naloxone, the overdose-reversal drug, without a prescription. The tool will include at least 20,000 locations (CVS, Rite-Aid, Walgreens) in 50 states. The site will also have more information about the availability and life-saving capability of this medication.

YouTube Videos: 8 videos of people in recovery, featured on the site, including Ryan Hampton.

Treatment Resources: to help people who are affected by substance use, Google is highlighting the National Institute of Drug Abuse screener AND state-specific Helpline resources to help people find recovery support in their own community.

Google has created something truly groundbreaking, unique, and powerful in a time of great need. As the epidemic worsens, it’s more important than ever to put recovery tools in the hands of people who need them. The Voices Project is proud to stand on the cutting edge of the recovery movement, along with other recovery leaders whose work saves lives every day.

Visit Google’s Recover Together initiative here: g.co/recovertogether

We Can’t Allow Big Pharma To ‘Check Mate’ Court System and Families Devastated by Opioid Crisis

Late last month, a court in Oklahoma held drug manufacturer Johnson & Johnson accountable for the role its products play in the national drug epidemic. Johnson & Johnson will pay $572 million, which must go toward supporting treatment and recovery services for people who struggle with addiction. However, accountability and public awareness are just the beginning.

Looking at the Cleveland County court’s decision, Johnson & Johnson was convicted of being a “public nuisance.” There may be a legal rationale for the name—but language is everything. The danger of a word like “nuisance” being thrown around lightly risks losing sight of the fact that real people are dying. Real families are grieving. Real survivors, like myself, won’t get the years they spent fighting addiction back. A “nuisance” is a minor inconvenience, like a car alarm that goes off in the middle of the night, or litter on a public sidewalk. “Nuisance” means a minor irritation. It doesn’t align at all with the seriousness of the national drug epidemic, which claims more than 200 lives every day. We can’t sanitize this epidemic for the purposes of legalese.

Accountability for pharmaceutical companies means finally calling out the irresponsible, reckless, and greedy behavior of billion-dollar companies. For years, Big Pharma has minimized the risks of their medications, failed to protect consumers from the fatal consequences of using their products, and straight-up lied to doctors and the American public about what their pills and patches could do. I lost ten years of my life to heroin addiction because I was marketed a “perfect pill” that was supposed to solve all my problems. I will never get those years back. Unlike many others, I did manage to stay alive, get through treatment, and avoid a fatal overdose. There is no dollar amount that would compensate me for the years I lost or fill all the empty chairs at dinner tables around the country.

Compared with the irreparable damage that the epidemic has done to families, neighborhoods, communities, workplaces, and individuals, a payment of $572 million is miniscule. You can’t put a price tag on the loss of a beloved child, parent, partner, or friend. Our loved ones weren’t a “nuisance.” They were people who had a highly treatable, yet highly stigmatized illness. They died because they didn’t have access to recovery services, including treatment, housing, peer recovery supports, harm reduction and specialized medical care. Those people were treated like they were “nuisances” while they were alive. That is one of the reasons they are dead today.

$572 million is a minimal start to help fund treatment, prevention, and recovery supports in Oklahoma. The court talks about applying that money directly to the epidemic, which is the real mitigation when they talk about “abatement.” That word, too, is problematic. “Abatement” is a word we use when we’re talking about lead, pollution, spilled chemicals, and trash. It’s not a word we use about human beings. This epidemic is the biggest public health crisis in our nation’s history. It’s bigger than AIDS, worse than polio. It’s put billions of dollars in the pockets of pharmaceutical companies. A payment of $572 million is just the beginning—and it’s not enough.

The verdict amount is less than 4 percent of what Oklahoma asked for, and Johnson & Johnson still have plans to fight it every step of the way. They believe they owe nothing to help save lives and clean up the mess they made. To be fair, Johnson & Johnson is probably not the company most at fault. If anything, the ruling shows how easily Purdue Pharma evaded justice and settled out of court, out of the public eye, and behind closed doors. Purdue settled with the state for $270 million back in April. Sadly, a large portion of Purdue’s settlement—$102.5 million—went to fund a new university research center at Oklahoma State.

Recently, it came to light that negotiations between state attorneys general and Purdue officials for a settlement have come to an impasse. And instead of facing trial like other opioid manufacturers and distributors next month, the company plans to dodge accountability once again and file for a “free fall” bankruptcy effectively removing them from the federal trial and moving their case to bankruptcy court. This is a prime example of Purdue literally getting away with murder.

My only hope is that the bankruptcy court sees this for what it is—a smug, self-satisfied family and drug king pin company attempting to ‘check mate’ the courts. Purdue’s intentions make it crystal clear that the states must go after the Sackler family personally if we have any hope of getting them to pay. It’s clear they’re in this for the long haul. Well, I’ve got news for them—so are the families and people whose lives they’ve destroyed.

Let me be clear: the only definition of “abatement” for a survivor is to make sure every penny that may come from these lawsuits goes directly to subsidizing recovery services for the millions of people in need across America, not to a state university.

As we move forward and seek justice for the families and survivors of the drug epidemic, we have to remember that people with substance use disorder are people, too. We must connect every single settlement, verdict, or bankruptcy asset to ending the crisis. We don’t need to reinvent recovery: we have resources and proven pathways that will save lives. We don’t have a single day to waste.

The real “nuisance” is Big Pharma’s unwillingness to clean up the wreckage they caused. If these lawsuits inconvenience them, they’re welcome to join me and hundreds of thousands of others at the graves of the people they killed. Broken families are not an “inconvenience.” When we talk about the addiction crisis, we’re talking about millions of people—real hurt, real pain, and real loss. We can never lose sight of that. Human lives are not litter. We are people, and we deserve compassion and solutions that work.

Ryan Hampton is an activist in recovery from heroin addiction and author of “American Fix: Inside the Opioid Addiction Crisis — and How to End It.” He is also the founder of the non-profit advocacy organization The Voices Project.

Opinion: Big Pharma Is Starting to Pay for the Opioid Crisis. Make Those Payments Count.

(republished from the New York Times Editorial Board, August 28, 2019.)

In 1998 tobacco manufacturers reached an unprecedented agreement with 46 states, which had sued the companies for engaging in decades of deceptive marketing practices that contributed to an epidemic of tobacco-related illness and death. Over the next 20 years, the industry paid some $125 billion to the states.

But two decades later, only a fraction of the tobacco proceeds — less than 3 percent nationally in 2019 — has been spent on public health matters related to tobacco use. In New York, some of the money went to a public golf course. Alabama installed security cameras in its schools. And in North Carolina, a portion of the money was dedicated to subsidies — for tobacco companies. Today, no state finances tobacco control efforts at the level that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends.

The lessons of the tobacco experience are on health officials’ minds this week, as a wave of legal cases involving a similar public health nightmare starts producing major payments.

On Monday, an Oklahoma judge found Johnson & Johnson — which sells prescription opioids and supplies other drug companies with opiate ingredients — responsible for contributing to the state’s opioid crisis, and ordered the company to pay $572 million. And on Tuesday, it was reported that Purdue Pharma, which manufactures OxyContin, and the Sackler family that owns the company, are offering to settle thousands of similar lawsuits with billions of dollars. Together, these cases suggest that the entities that helped cause the opioid crisis will finally be forced to help address it.

deal to be done. Some 400,000 people have died of opioid overdoses nationally over the past two decades. The crisis also has taken a staggering toll on the nation’s economy, costing an estimated $78.5 billion a year in health care, lost productivity and involvement by the criminal justice system, according to the C.D.C.

The opioid industry has been quick to point out that today’s overdose crisis is driven more by street drugs like heroin and fentanyl than by prescription opioids like OxyContin. And that’s true. But there’s no question that this epidemic began with the rampant overprescribing of those painkillers and that their overuse was fueled, quite deliberately, by the pharmaceutical industry’s efforts. As innumerable court documents and investigations have shown, opioid makers, including Purdue and Johnson & Johnson, routinely and knowingly misled the public about their products. They played down the risks of addiction, insisting that their drugs were safe and, if anything, underutilized. And they combated growing concerns with aggressive lobbying and public relations campaigns.

These tactics contributed to sky-high levels of opioid abuse, addiction and overdose. They led, almost directly, to the street drug problem that the nation is confronting today. And they secured handsome profits for opioid makers and suppliers.

So far, industry payouts have been meager compared with opioid makers’ profits and with the cost of the opioid crisis. The state of Oklahoma, for example, says that it will need roughly $17 billion over the coming decades to effectively combat the epidemic. This week’s judgment against Johnson & Johnson, combined with previous settlements with Purdue ($270 million) and Teva Pharmaceuticals ($85 million), another opioid maker, would cover only a few years of that effort.

And that’s only if the money is spent as it ought to be. So far, more money from that Purdue settlement has been allocated to litigation costs than to supplying communities with anti-addiction medicine or to helping local governments grapple with the direct costs of opioid addiction and overdose. It remains to be seen if the company’s latest proposal — to declare bankruptcy and morph into a public trust whose profits would go directly to plaintiffs — will fare any better. Health officials have long worried that any opioid settlement would meet the same fate as the global tobacco settlement — especially after some of the proceeds from early opioid settlements in states like West Virginia were spent on things unrelated to the crisis. As plaintiffs settle their cases with drug makers, or as judges award damages, they would do well to ensure that the resulting payouts go directly to combating opioid addiction.

There is no shortage of options for doing so. Programs that increase access to methadone and buprenorphine are urgently needed; right now fewer than 20 percent of people struggling with opioid addiction are being provided with such treatments, even though they’re known to be lifesaving. Health departments also face a perpetual shortage of overdose reversal drugs like naloxone, which can cost more than $100 a dose. And funds would be well spent on efforts to educate the public about and combat the stigma surrounding addiction.

No amount of money will compensate for the lives lost to opioid overdoses. But an investment commensurate with the scale of that loss, directed responsibly, could help countless others avoid that fate.

Naloxone Saves Lives

For people who use opioids—whether their use is intentional or accidental, and whether their substance of choice is prescribed or self-administered—overdose is always a risk. Even people with a tolerance for opioids can experience an overdose. In these life threatening situations, naloxone is essential. Without it, many people do not survive. That’s why The Voices Project is spearheading the Overdose Response Initiative with the Clinton Foundation and in partnership with NGO’s Direct Relief and the National Alliance of Recovery Residences. The primary goal of this initiative to help bring recovery residences (also known as sober livings) to scale in providing overdose response supports.

This 3-year initiative will provide free naloxone and digital overdose response training—along with best practices—to recovery residences in the United States. Community organizations that provide direct services for substance use disorder are encouraged to participate. However, initial preference for the free naloxone distribution will be given to recovery residences.

There are an estimated 13,000 recovery residences in the United States. These homes tend to be a first-line of defense for people who are in early recovery from opioid use disorder. Recently, there has been a severe uptick in overdose deaths in recovery homes. Through this partnership and initiative, we hope to eliminate access barriers to the overdose antidote by providing free naloxone along with the necessary training and support for recovery homes to develop individualized overdose response protocols.

This multifaceted initiative works to prevent opioid overdoses. Making naloxone universally available is a key element in fighting substance related death in the United States.

Naloxone is the generic name for Narcan, an opioid blocker medication that stops overdoses and saves lives. The medication is administered via injection or through a nasal inhaler. It can be given to anyone who shows signs of opioid overdose:

●    respiratory failure
●    slow breathing
●    small or pinprick pupils
●    unresponsiveness
●    blue or pale skin from poor circulation

Most overdoses are not immediately fatal. Naloxone can save a life if it’s given to the person as quickly as possible. Naloxone is effective for 30-90 minutes, and more than one dose may be needed to keep someone alive. Naloxone is an essential part of any First Aid kit, especially in places where people may experience higher risk of opioid exposure, such as sober living homes, hospitals, pharmacies, and households where someone has an opioid prescription.

As fentanyl becomes more prevalent, having naloxone on hand is more important than ever. Fentanyl is a powerful opioid that can be mixed into other substances, such as methamphetamines, heroin, and non-prescription pills. Even a small amount of fentanyl can be lethal once it enters the body. Fentanyl overdoses require more than one naloxone kit. If somebody doesn’t revive after the first naloxone kit is administered, they may have been exposed to fentanyl.

The Overdose Response Initiative is important because it acknowledges that anyone, in any family, at any time, can be affected by overdose. Making naloxone universally available helps dispel the stigma of substance use disorder. Just like EpiPens for people with allergies, condoms for HIV prevention and safer sex, and AED machines for people at risk for heart attacks, naloxone is a necessary public health measure. A single naloxone kit can cost anywhere from $0 to $40, depending on your insurance plan. Some nonprofits distribute the kits for free: they should always have two doses of naloxone, to contend with more severe overdoses. Many recovery advocates offer free naloxone training so that families, friends, and caregivers are prepared.

Naloxone is one of the best tools we have in the fight against the national drug epidemic. Let’s make it a universal care measure, for anyone, anywhere whose life is endangered by opioids.

Don’t Wait To Be The Change: Mobilize!

Mobilize Recovery is a nationwide recovery initiative, supported by Facebook and spearheaded by The Voices Project. The initiative’s goal is simple: to create a network of people who are passionate about recovery and motivated to get involved in grassroots efforts to end the drug epidemic.

Although our national public health crisis surrounding addiction started decades ago, it has reached a fever pitch in the last few years. New opioid painkillers, such as OxyContin, entered the marketplace in 2002. These drugs were marketed aggressively to prescribers and patients alike. People were told the pills were a “cure-all,” a low-risk treatment for everything from menstrual cramps to chronic illness. However, few doctors were informed about the serious, life-threatening risks attached to these pills. Instead, they were educated by the very companies that were selling the pills. Misleading marketing materials, high-class resort vacations, and financial incentives for writing more prescriptions helped push billions of these pills into American homes.

The average person develops a physical dependence on opioids after 3 days, even if they’re taking pills as prescribed for legitimate pain. After the three days, the person will experience withdrawal. They may return for more pills, even though they don’t need them. The wheels of addiction are set in motion, although the person doesn’t realize it yet. They start to experience symptoms of substance use disorder, and may end up with severe consequences if they’re left untreated. Multiply this patient’s experience by millions of people, and you’ve created a national drug epidemic of sick people who are desperate for help.

Mobilize Recovery wants to break this cycle. The initiative works on a broad scale to:

●      support efforts to educate people about addiction

●      offer solutions like harm reduction and recovery support services

●      train people to use naloxone for overdose prevention

●      connect with elected leaders to push pro-recovery legislation

●      amplify the voices of people with substance use disorder

●      change the narrative around addiction to a story of hope

●      empower people in recovery as voters, community members, and advocates

Beginning with 100 motivated recovery advocates, Mobilize Recovery had its first training in Las Vegas in July 2019. Representatives from each state gathered to share resources, learn about recovery efforts in other areas, and get trained on advocacy tactics. Hundreds of other attendees listened to the conference via livestream.

Presenters spoke about the history of the recovery movement, ways to uplift the message of recovery, how factors like race and class affect recovery outcomes, and where the epidemic comes from. After the two-day event, participants returned home with an action plan and goals for their state and regions. They continue to work together with initiative leaders to recruit, motivate, and actualize those goals.

Mobilize Recovery acknowledges the devastating effects of the drug epidemic, while also offering a way for people to fight back. Recovery is the solution to addiction related deaths: hundreds of advocates, nationwide, are already hard at work saving lives and speaking out. The Mobilize Recovery initiative brings those voices together so we can do more, speak louder, and end the crisis faster.

Substance Use Disorder is a Mental Health Issue

Addiction is a mental health disorder. Substance use disorder (SUD) is classified as a chronic mental condition, yet the stigma of addiction is so severe that people with SUD are often excluded from the national conversation on mental health. All mental health conditions, including addiction, must be a priority for policymakers. We need real action to end the national mental health crisis and bring solutions to people in need—in ways that are realistic, accessible, and reliable.

Along with the Voices Project, I am proud to stand with the Mental Health for US coalition. We are dedicated to lifting up the voices of people in recovery and calling for policy change that directly addresses the urgent needs of people who struggle with addiction. We call for comprehensive, inclusive, and accessible care for people that includes recovery housing, specialized medical help, integrated recovery services, and a continuum of care that focuses on sustaining recovery after the initial, acute stages. We encourage people to register to vote and become more informed on support recovery and other mental health support measures.

We are in the midst of a national public health crisis that affects millions of people, their families, and their communities. The impact of mental health is profound and goes far beyond the individual:

  • One in five American adults—tens of millions of people—will experience a mental illness or substance use disorder in any given year
  • Untreated mental health illness costs the country at least $444 billion per year
  • More than 47,000 people died by suicide in 2017, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death in the United States
  • Every day, more than 130 Americans die from opioid overdose
  • Fewer than 10 percent of people with substance use disorder will ever seek medical help

Substance use disorder has a high rate of co-occurrence with other mental health disorders. According to SAMHSA, an estimated 8.9 million Americans are living with co-occurring disorders. However, they also report that fewer than 7.5 percent of these people enroll in a comprehensive treatment program that can effectively address those disorders. People are falling through the gaps. To help more people recover, survive, and thrive, we need to close those gaps, and we need to work with our policymakers to make sure this happens.

Access is crucial to supporting people at all stages in their recovery. We need a system that supports any person at any time—whenever they’re ready to ask for help. Many people enter recovery services because their substance use placed them in danger. They may end up in the ER due to an overdose or an injury sustained while using; they may enter the criminal justice system because they were arrested for possession, being intoxicated in public, or driving under the influence. These are valid pathways, but they are not ideal for people because they are not designed to be part of a continuum of care. People who detox in jail are at risk of death. Similarly, someone who is revived from an opioid overdose with naloxone in an ER and immediately put back on the street is extremely vulnerable. These deaths are preventable. Education and prevention measures can help, but for people in crisis, that information is too late. If the needed help isn’t available, they could lose their lives to a highly treatable disease.

To jumpstart change, policymakers need to know that mental health and addiction care really matter to Americans. I encourage you to start by joining the thousands of mental health and addiction advocates in signing the Mental Health for US statement of support, which tells policymakers that breaking down barriers to prevention strategies, treatment, and recovery supports needs to be a top priority in this country.

We need to build bridges for people who are seeking recovery, and Mental Health for US is working to elevate mental health AND addiction in national policy conversations to fix a struggling health system. From ethical sober living homes, to peer recovery support, to universally available naloxone, to accessible services that encompass a wide spectrum of mental health needs—we need to think way, way outside the box. Mental health includes addiction. When we bring these issues under the same umbrella, we can save millions of lives—and change millions more.