Unite to Face Addiction

Oct 16, 2015 by

On October 4, 120 people from Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority travelled to Washington, D.C. For the “UNITE to Face Addiction” rally. UNITE was the first event of its kind, drawing support from tens of thousands across the nation to rally for alcohol and substance use recovery.

DWMHA staff, local advocates and consumers in recovery arrived in DC after a long bus ride to join the nationwide campaign on bringing the struggle of substance use to the forefront. When they arrived, they were in good company with major recording artists like Steven Tyler, Sheryl Crow, Joe Walsh of The Eagles, John Rzeznik of The Goo Goo Dolls, The Fray, Jason Isbell and Aloe Blacc, many of whom have struggled personally with addiction; all who performed to support the cause.

Recovery Is Possible

Former U.S. Congressman Patrick Kennedy, and former Michigan State Representative and Speaker of the Michigan House, Craig DeRoche also gave testimonies of support of recovery

UNITE to Face Addiction was a history-making event, but the subject of addiction has permeated for centuries. Buzz Aldrin, Vincent Van Gogh, Ernest Hemingway, and Betty Ford are among the historical figures with addictions. “Twenty-two million Americans are currently suffering from a substance use disorder, with more than 23 million others living in recovery.” said Greg Williams, UNITE’s campaign director.

Most of us in Michigan have encountered someone struggling with drug addiction, whether in a public space or our personal lives. If you haven’t, it is only a matter of time.


Gov. Snyder and Lt. Gov. Calley

Governor Snyder and Lt. Gov Calley are taking charge in addressing this epidemic of drug abuse in our state. Governor Rick Snyder announced earlier this year the creation of a drug task force. Additionally, Lt Governor Calley will be making recommendations from the state’s perspective on behalf of a committee he heads with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. To their credit, they are seeking input from local professionals and users on how to solve this epidemic.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 8 percent of the population have a substance use disorder. Depending where you live, as long as you know 13 people, one has a substance use disorder. Drug use, however, does not discriminate. It affects people of all races, zip codes, genders, and economic status. If you don’t personally know someone with a substance use disorder, you know them indirectly as coworkers, customers, fellow parents, or the person you passed on the street this morning. Often these individuals hide in plain sight, burdened by the shame of their addiction, until there is no longer a way to hide the damage it has caused in their lives.

The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu advised, “See others as yourself. See families as your family. See towns as your town. See countries as your country. See worlds as your world.” If you aren’t concerned about these individuals for moral reasons, there are other reasons to care. Illicit drugs and alcohol cost $193 billion annually in lost productivity, healthcare, and incarceration. What’s more, drug use is becoming deadlier.

Over-the-counter prescription addictive pain killers pave the way for later heroin use, due to its ease of access. Here in Wayne County according to the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office from 2001 to 2013, the number of deaths due to heroin overdose have increased five-fold. The increase has been seen across all races and genders. The drug is cheap, so the drug once known for its danger is being bought by fun-seeking teenagers.


Overdoses involving painkillers are on the rise. SOURCE: Wayne County medical Examiner’s Office

Substance use is still, unfortunately, a taboo topic. For too long, people with substance use disorders have been burdened by stigma. They are often branded as hopeless or degenerate – views which discourage them from seeking life-changing treatment.

According to DWMHA’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Carmen McIntyre, “Research has shown that drug addiction is a disorder of the brain. With a substance use disorder, normal human urges such as enjoying food, spending time with loved ones, and staying safe and sheltered become secondary to the urge to use drugs. Dysfunctional firing in the brain is not a failure of character, but a medical problem.


Dr. McIntyre

Although the brain is the “control center” of the body, we have historically failed to treat mental illnesses and substance use disorders as equally as other organs. It is time to stop the discrimination, and treat our citizens from the neck-up as well as we treat them from the neck-down. When we shame our communities instead of reaching out to them, these issues continue to fester and grow.

The severity of the drug problem is highlighted by U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade’s recent initiative to crack down on the Michigan pipeline supplying heroin and prescription pills to other states such as Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and West Virginia. McQuade is to be commended for her focus on persecuting the supplier of death-inducing drugs, rather than the user. This improvement, however, still leaves the treatment of substance use disorders to those of us in Community Mental Health. Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority (DWMHA) hopes to set a local and national example through its recent integration of substance use disorder services.

In addition to providing access to the treatment of substance use disorders, one of DWMHA’s goals is to increase drug awareness. Coalitions target youth ages 12- 20 to address prescription misuse and abuse, unintentional drug poisonings, and underage drinking. A drug surveillance committee meets every other month with organizations including the Drug Enforcement Agency, Homeland Security, providers, and local pharmacists to collaborate. DWMHA also has staff on one of our coalition drug task forces in Detroit.

DWMHA has also provided funding to Downriver’s Coalition to Stop Underage Drinking and Drug Use (SUDDS), which is an initiative to educate and prevent underage drinking and drug use. Other funding initiatives have included Wild About Youth Works! and Grow Detroit’s Young Talent, two job-placement programs for youth.

Billboards and buses can also be seen advertising our services and 24-Hour Help Line (800 241-4949) in Detroit and out-county areas. We hope the sum of these efforts is a more educated and empowered community that offers support where it is needed.


DWMHA billboards offer help to those struggling with addiction.

Help Is Available

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), one person dies every four minutes due to alcohol or drugs, but no one has to die from addiction. Effective treatment exists and recovery is real. We simply must make it easier for the people who need help to get that help.

Special thanks to the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority Substance Abuse Advisory Board, chaired by Angelo Glenn for the laser like focus on improving outcomes for persons with substance uses disorders.


Angelo Glenn is Director of Substance Abuse Prevention Programming at Mariners Inn and Chairman of the DWMHA Substance Use Disorder Oversight Policy Board.

If you need to contact any one of our hundreds of providers for prevention, treatment or recovery services; please visit www.dwmha.com or call our 24 hr Crisis Hotline number at 1-800-241-4949.

Tom Watkins is the president and CEO of the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority (www.dwmha.com). He has served the citizens of Michigan as state superintendent of schools and state mental health director. He can be emailed at: tdwatkins88@gmail.com, or followed on twitter at:@tdwatkins88

Source: Unite to Face Addiction

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.