“Never forget that the faces of addiction are real people. They are beloved family members, close friends and colleagues. They are us.” —U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy
The addiction crisis in America is real. And you need not look any further than your own city block to understand the gravity of this epidemic. I’ve written often this past year about my personal struggle with addiction and journey in recovery, the friends I’ve lost to fatal drug overdoses and the need for addiction policy reform. The wave of this public health emergency has gone from coast-to-coast. Since Thanksgiving Day just a few short weeks ago, I’ve lost five more friends to addiction — all within three square miles in Pasadena, California. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control reported that heroin deaths now outnumber gun homicides here in the United States, for the first time ever. It’s time we begin unifying for immediate, sensible solutions around this issue, regardless of whom you voted for or what your political affiliation may be.
While it’s no secret that my first choice for president will not be taking the oath of office on January 20, I will not sit idle as those closest to me continue to die. Donald Trump will be this country’s 45th President in just 31 short days. And as president, his policies will have a tremendous impact as to whether we turn back the clock on addiction or move forward with a new, more progressive and evidence-based approach — built upon the experience of the more than 23 million Americans living in long-term recovery today. The latter provides our new president with an opportunity to show this country that he could, in fact, be the great unifier around this cause.
This morning, I joined tens of thousands of Americans by signing the following open-letter to the president-elect, putting aside any partisan divide or personal feelings, with hope that he’ll listen to — and work with — my community to put an end to this crisis.
Dear President-Elect Trump,
We are writing as Americans who, regardless of political affiliation, are deeply concerned by the addiction crisis ravaging our country. You shared openly how alcoholism devastated your brother Fred’s life. In fact, addiction to alcohol and other drugs impacts 45 million Americans and their families. As you heard during the campaign, 21 million families today are being torn apart by substance use disorders; scores of thousands more bury their children each year, at ever-younger ages; and drug overdoses are now the leading cause of preventable death in America.
Americans have made it apparent they want our elected leaders to address this crisis. Indeed, a study of the election results found your voters turned out in significantly greater numbers over previous candidates — specifically in counties with the highest drug, alcohol, and suicide mortality rates.
Our current national response to this crisis is nowhere near proportionate to its magnitude. For example, the consequences of untreated addiction costs our economy $442 billion a year – twice what we spend on diabetes. We heard much about supply-side reduction ideas throughout the campaign. However, we want to make clear evidence-based prevention programs have a return-on-investment of $58 for every $1 spent. Recent studies show every dollar spent on substance use disorder treatment saves $4 in health care costs and $7 in criminal justice costs. There are likely few investments you will make during your administration with this type of return to the budget and, importantly, to the families and communities impacted.
You have expressed strong interest in reforming our healthcare system. Currently, mental health and substance use disorder insurance benefits are required to be offered at parity with physical health conditions for millions of Americans. Budget analysis shows that providing comprehensive coverage for these chronic conditions reduces overall health costs in all sectors, especially the staggering costs of co-morbid conditions. At a time when our nation is suffering terribly from the growing burden of addiction, eliminating the ability for people to access prevention, treatment, and ongoing recovery supports could have catastrophic consequences – in economic, societal, and human terms.
The signers of this letter are part of a fast–growing movement of people affected by the addiction crisis. We would welcome the opportunity to meet with members of your Administration to discuss these important issues and stand at the ready to support the implementation of solutions that will save lives.
* * *
Mr. President-Elect, if you’re reading this, please know that I am ready to stand with you, work with you, and support you in any capacity that will ensure we move forward, not backward, on this issue. I’m certain we don’t see eye-to-eye on much, but I am also certain the pain we both share as Americans personally affected by addiction might be just enough for us to meet halfway. America is calling on you for bold, new leadership to solve the most challenging health crisis of our generation. Please answer our call with urgency and compassion.