Where is the Public in this Public Health Crisis?

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Screen Shot 2017 03 06 at 6.58.40 PMDuring the 2016 election cycle, the opiate crisis and addiction in New Hampshire was the No. 1 voting issue and has now officially been deemed a “Public Health Crisis.” However, it is the only public health crisis that I am aware of that has not specifically given every single member of the public something to do. I say this is because no one has ever activated and engaged the public to let them know what an important part they can play in helping to end this crisis.

Everyone reading this has been touched by addiction in one way or another. It is time I say, “I’m sorry” to each and every one of you. I am sorry that you have been told “There is nothing you can do until someone really wants it.” I am sorry that you have been told “They need to hit rock bottom.”

I am sorry that you are confused about what addiction is (chronic disease, choice, moral failing, etc.) because of the way people talk about it. I am sorry that the overwhelming burden of care has fallen on the individual and their family members. I am sorry that you have not heard the truth – that there is something that you, that we, should all be doing to help someone initiate and sustain recovery.

The truth is, people struggling with addiction have their limitations just like everyone else; they are human, just like everyone else, and they need their support systems just like everyone else. They are at your banks, your supermarkets, your schools, your places of worship, your workplaces, etc. They are students, teachers, co-workers, friends, neighbors, family members, etc. They are no different than the person with any other chronic medical condition that needs to be managed and supported. We need to pivot from the old thinking that only family members, the medical community, the government, etc. are the ones who can “fix” the opiate and addiction crisis. It is time to get the general public activated and engaged.

When New Hampshirites stated last year that the opiate crisis was their No. 1 voting issue, it told me that they care. That they want to do something. All they likely need is the what and the how. What you can do is walk the journey with someone struggling with addiction and trying to recover. How you can do it is by being a support person for that individual. The more light and opportunities (love, compassion, purpose, resiliency, connection, community, basic needs, access to medical/clinical help, education, jobs, hope, faith, choice, etc.) people have, the best chance they will have at initiating and sustaining recovery.

Each of you reading this has a unique opportunity to be that “light” for a person struggling with an addiction or their loved ones. It is time we harness this power of community and activate everyone with education, training, and tools to end this crisis. I dream of a day when every member of the public knows what to ask, what to do, how to walk with, and why it is all so very important. With the staggering number of deaths occurring in New Hampshire and nationwide, it is more important than ever to learn how to be an opportunity for someone struggling with addiction. Now is the time and YOU are the answer. As the number of deaths go down in this state and across the country, it will be because of you.

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Bernadette Gleeson is a recovery innovator, speaker, and educator and is the founder of BAO Communications – a company dedicated to harnessing and activating the public to help combat the addiction and opiate crisis.

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