This summer I found myself engaged in the public policy universe in DC and Vienna, with The White House Office of Drug Policy and The UN Office of Drugs and Crime. You may have noticed my tweets. Kind of lame but it was a beginning. I must tell you – those of us in recovery are needed in this universe. There is great opportunity to make a difference and create change. By getting involved at the level of government and civil society it is possible to become invigorated about and engaged in a type of service different from what we find in the normal ways we carry the message of recovery. I had no idea before I inadvertently found myself involved with people who were interested in trying to solve some of these problems on a macro level. It’s not for everybody, but if you have an interest, it’s worth taking the plunge and, god knows, there is a lot to do.
I was asked by the White House Office of Drug Policy to participate in a press conference about the 400% increase in the use of prescription drugs. I know a lot about abusing prescription drugs. I spent years doing it and for all of you out there who know what I am talking about, you know what a nasty dead-end street it is. And it’s only getting worse. Prescription drug abuse is epidemic especially amongst our youth and service men and women who are coming back from war to lives of addiction to prescription drugs. It is estimated that one in four GIs suffer with prescription drug abuse and not enough is being done for them. I did the press conference with Director Kerlikowske, who is the current Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Deputy Director, Thomas McLellan one of the smartest people in the country when it comes to addiction and recovery. Director Kerlikowske asked my son Matthew and I to drive with him from the White House to the press conference in his motorcade, which was cool, and spent 20 minutes with me in his office, where I argued for increased access to treatment and care for more Americans, as well as the importance of following through on the White House goal of establishing an office of recovery at the ONDCP.
The press conference went off without a hitch and I was grateful and proud to represent our community at this level of the national dialogue. It was afterward that I began to think about the job of running the office of Recovery, which had been suggested to me after an earlier trip to Vienna with the folks from ONDCP. I was told that the White House was looking for someone more bureaucratic or institutional to run the office, which I believe and understand. But the thought occurred to me: If I were in a government position where I was ultimately concerned with credibility and not being embarrassed, would I hire a recovering person and give them a position of such visibility and responsibility. It’s not that I wouldn’t believe they could do the job, but in the back of mind, I would have the fear that they might relapse. That is an enormous chance to take. This disease is different than other diseases. If someone has diabetes or cancer you don’t have the possibility of that person relapsing and doing some of the things that alcoholics and addicts do when they relapse. When we go out, some of us attract a lot of attention, and, NOBODY, in Washington wants THAT kind of attention. Now, I’m not saying any of this is, actually going on – except in my head. I believe those in our government, responsible for generating and overseeing public policy with regard to substance abuse, respect our community and would not hesitate to appoint individuals to positions of responsibility. But, in our nasty, salacious political culture it could be very embarrassing for the White House to have someone in a position of authority who, sober yesterday, drinks or uses drugs and starts swinging from the chandelier, naked with a lampshade on his head.
Just the twisted musings of a high revving brain in long-term recovery, but I think it begs the bigger question, which is: What do normal folks and society in general think about the possibility of long-term recovery? Can recovering people ever really be trusted? Isn’t it just a matter of time before they drink or drug again? What if someone is sober 15 years and they suddenly go out for a year and create a lot of wreckage, what does that mean? I think, maybe, this is why there is no national recovery movement and doesn’t seem to be many politicians who will do anything about this problem in a meaningful way.