When Ryan Hampton was recovering from opioid addiction in 2015, he remembers turning on the television at the recovery house where he was staying and seeing something remarkable: A rally, called “Unite to Face Addiction,” drew hundreds of organizations and advocates for people who use drugs to the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
“As someone who had less than a year under their belt in recovery at that time, I remember looking at it and saying ‘Wow, isn’t this amazing? This community extends beyond the four walls of the recovery meeting that I go to religiously every night. These people are out there, doing some pretty incredible things,'” he said.
Inspired by what a life after drug use could look like, Hampton, now the founder of a national advocacy organization for people in recovery, wants to bring that community together — in a big way.
Hampton and his organization, Mobilize Recovery, will collaborate with celebrities, federal agencies and people around the country on a national day of service to honor National Recovery Month and reduce stigma against people who use drugs. He said it will be the largest single-day organized event in the recovery community.
The goal is to “make a substantial impact in our communities” during National Recovery Month, which is celebrated in September. The Mobilize Recovery Day of Service would also coincide with International Recovery Day, Hampton said.
The event, which will take place on International Recovery Day, Sept. 30, 2023, will be nationwide and invites any person in recovery from addiction or substance use — an estimated 20.5 million U.S. adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute on Drug Abuse — to connect with local organizations to do any act of community service. Hampton told CBS News that a service project could be as small as a few friends organizing a park clean-up, or as large as an organization arranging a food drive in a major city.
“Service is something that folks in the recovery community and people who care about this issue are involved with constantly,” Hampton said. “You could go into any recovery community organization and find them participating in something that would be seen as community service, whether it’s a food drive, whether it’s volunteering in hospitals. These are things that happen every single day in the recovery community, and they have just never been put on display in the way of an organized day of service.”
The emphasis on service, he said, is “multi-pronged.”
“It’s sticking true to a core recovery principle, which is service both inside and outside the recovery community,” he said. “It’s chipping away at long-held prejudices and discrimination against the recovery community by showing up in a positive way in our larger community. It’s eliminating negative attitudes that have kept people suffering silence, and it’s creating a larger sense of community.”
Service is so emphasized in the recovery community, Hampton said, because it creates a “sense of belonging,” builds community and helps others “see us as valuable members of their communities.”
Hampton said that Mobilize Recovery is expecting hundreds of service events to be organized nationwide on Sept. 30. Over 70 events have already been organized on the day of service’s website, which allows people to RSVP to planned community service events or create their own. The existing events include a naloxone training in Colorado, a food drive in Illinois, a donation drive in Florida and a beach outreach program in South Carolina.
“It gives every single person an opportunity to participate, no matter where they are, you know, on their recovery journey or where they are in the United States. There are literally no barriers to participating in this organized day of service,” he said.
Mobilize Recovery is collaborating with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, along with other national and regional recovery organizations. Dr. Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, the administrator of SAMHSA, said that the agency has previously partnered with Mobilize Recovery and that she was “really excited” to have the opportunity to do so again.
The day of service “demonstrates the power of the recovery community to create positive change through action, and another goal is to really recommit to recovery principles by serving others,” Delphin-Rittmon said. “The Day of Service is very much about engaging hundreds of people across the country to be able to serve others.”
Other co-chairs include Melissa Etheridge, whose son died from an opioid overdose in 2020; rapper Macklemore, who has been open about his struggles with drug use; actor Danny Trejo, who is 54 years sober and has a child in recovery; and more. Etheridge told CBS News that she was “honored” to be part of the “monumental event.”
“The shame and stigma that so many families face when seeking help is a direct result of the negative attitudes and perceptions that many have about addiction, overdose, and recovery,” she said. “I’m hopeful that a moment like our Day of Service will show the value of recovery in every city and town across America. Through service, we can show everyday Americans that recovery has tremendous value.”