William C. Moyers
Beyond Addiction by William C. Moyers
Improving our understanding of alcohol and drug addiction
A Million-Dollar Question
A woman I admire asked me where she should donate $1 million to promote research to cure addiction.
For just a moment, I thought about a glib answer: "Just write the check to me." But there's nothing funny about her question. She lost a son to opiate addiction several years ago and ever since has dedicated her life to helping other families to avoid her tragedy. Though I doubt she has that kind of money, her tireless advocacy is priceless, and I know what she means. Gloria will do anything to save people like her son from dying.
Her query was in response to something I'd written about a low-key conversation some of us are having. We're interested in trying to answer the question, "Can we cure addiction?" -- with the emphasis on the pronoun because it will take a collective effort across a disparate and fragmented "field" that includes big pharma, brain researchers, scientists, treatment experts, doctors, clinical therapists and probably a bunch of alcoholics and addicts, be they sober or not, to come up with an answer other than no.
That's because even though the American Medical Association declared alcoholism (and, by association, drug addiction) a disease in 1954, today the stigma reigns. Public misperception hasn't changed much since the AMA's position did. Public policy hasn't, either. Even among those who don't see it as a moral failing or a byproduct of bad behavior or lack of faith, there is no consensus about what kind of illness it actually is, how to treat it or whether it can ever be cured.
In the meantime, it remains the nation's No. 1 health problem. It is at the root of many issues, from crime and homelessness to accidents, injuries and death. And there are not enough resources to help people who have it. For the 25th year in a row, the federal government has declared September "Recovery Month." But for every one of us who has overcome addiction, there are at least two who still suffer. I cross paths with them every day.
My answer to Gloria came quickly, without much thought to proper grammar or punctuation as I was flying home worn-out after a trip to Kentucky. Maybe that's why I think it is good enough to share with you now.
It just poured out.
"I'd give $1 million to Faces and Voices of Recovery.
"For while science and the rest of us may find a cure for addiction someday, that day is a long, long way from coming. If ever.
"And in the meantime, we know there is a solution for many people, and that solution is hope.
"Hope that leads people and families to recovery. Where does that hope come from?
"From those of us who have been down and back.
"From families who have been down and back.
"From families who have lost loved ones but who persevere in healing their own lives.
"From communities that know firsthand the devastation of addiction but provide opportunities to treat the problem and promote the solution.
"In other words, advocates who know the hopelessness of addiction and the hopefulness of recovery, no matter how that recovery is defined or lived.
"Faces and Voices is the single most effective organization to get us to stand up and speak up with our messages of hope.
"It is hope that helps people reach out and ask for help.
"You and I know from our own lives that addiction is an illness of the mind, body and spirit. So if a cure comes it must address these components.
"I doubt that simply taking a pill will work. Simply not drinking or drugging won't work either.
"Maybe someday we'll live to see a real cure.
"Until that day comes we have a lot of work to do to help people."
She knows my bias toward the advocacy organization Faces and Voices. I helped to start it a long time ago, at a time when there was no coordinated effort to unite us to stand up and speak out on behalf of the issues that affect addicted people and their families. I have no connection to it now. But my affinity remains unstanched, despite challenges with its leadership and finances.
The cost of hopelessness is measured in the lives of people who don't know how or where to turn for help to overcome addiction. Everyone pays the price. Hope is priceless. But it takes real money and hard work, too, with a payoff for all of us. Whether you have $1 million or a story to tell, make the investment.
September 20, 2014