#Recovery: Let's make recovery go viral

September 13, 2016

Laurie Krom, MS
Director, ATTC Network Coordinating Office

Last week the East Liverpool, Ohio police department decided to fight the opioid use disorder epidemic by posting two images to their Facebook page. The images show a man and a woman passed out in the two front seats of their vehicle, with a young child in the back seat.

The child is looking at the camera.

The woman is turning blue.

The text associated with the post explained that the police department decided to share the images so that the public could see “the other side of this horrible drug.” They also mentioned that the man and woman both lived, after receiving lifesaving care from a medical team. The Facebook post went viral almost immediately and was picked up by many local and national news outlets. I am not included a link to that post here. I do not want to give it more legs.

I saw the post on my Facebook feed on Friday, September 9as I waited to board a plane in the Reagan National airport. I live in Kansas City and was in DC last week for the kick-off of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Recovery Month. The theme for Recovery Month this year is “Join the Voices for Recovery: Our Families, Our Stories, Our Recovery!” As part of the kick-off activities, I attended events with numerous people in recovery themselves and/or who are part of the recovery movement. It is one of my favorite times of year, as those of us who work in the behavioral health field are renewed by hearing the transformative stories of the individuals, families, and communities who benefit when people who are sick are provided the support they need to get and stay well.

So it was jarring, to say the least, to find the East Liverpool police department post. As many, I was shocked by the images. I suspect it was the police department’s intent for the images to be shocking. Beyond that, however, I was disheartened by the comments posted in response to the post. Not only were the comments misinformed, they were vitriolic. A number of people expressed a desire to see both the man and woman die. I was on a high (pun intended) from having been with my recovery movement allies. The commenters’ explicit and pejorative remarks were a slap in the face to remind me how much hate and discrimination still exists when it comes to people with substance use disorders.

I immediately felt compelled to respond on my own Facebook feed: “I have so many feelings about this post. As a mom, all I can think about is that poor baby and how I just want to hug him and tell him it will be OK. As an advocate (and, frankly, a human), I see how much work there is to do. We know from decades of research that addiction is a chronic, recurring disease that affects both the structure and function of the brain. The people you see overdosing in these images are not garbage. They are sick. A number of the commenters on the post say that they hope the woman and man are dead. I have to tell you this breaks my heart and, simultaneously, infuriates me. Recovery from addiction is possible and there are MILLIONS of people who were once as sick as these people, but who are now well. I am fortunate to know and work with people in recovery on a daily basis and my life is so much better than it could ever have been because of it. So when you look at these images, I invite you to see what I see - a family in crisis due to severe illness that we, as a community, should ensure has all the possible health and human services they need to thrive in the future.

Anna Mullins & William Smith with their daughter.
A number of my friends and colleagues in the recovery movement also posted responses to the East Liverpool post. One response was particularly apt. Facing Addiction shared a response from William Smith and Anna Mullins. The couple posted an image of themselves holding their young daughter, a child about the same age as the one in the image shared by the police department. The description included with this family’s image stated, “The East Liverpool Police Department posted an image attempting to show “the other side” of addiction. In reality, the photo posted was the devastating side of addiction too many of us see far too often. The #OtherSideOfAddiction the public needs to see is #Recovery. We are William Smith and Anna Mullins and this is our daughter Layla, from New Jersey. We are 2 of the more than 23 million Americans and their families in recovery from addiction. We are working with Facing Addiction to spread messages of compassion, empathy and support as new tactics for curbing opiate overdoses and preventing addiction.”

I am reminded by a mantra that one of our recovery movement leaders has said for years. When talking about the so-called need for people to “hit rock bottom” before they can heal, Bill White urges us to reconsider. He explains that people do not stay addicted to alcohol and drugs due to an absence of pain. Rather, addiction continues due to lack of HOPE. Let’s all honor William and Anna and the many, many families like them who have found recovery and provide hope to those who are still sick by making recovery infectious. Make posts, tweets, images and videos that show the promise and possibility of recovery go viral. Speak up and speak out in social media. Be a voice for the family in East Liverpool. Amplify the voices of William and Ana. Join the voices of recovery. Our families. Our stories. Our recovery.

Laurie Krom, M.S., is the Director of the ATTC Network Coordinating Office. She also serves as a Program Director in the Collaborative for Excellence in Behavioral Health Research and Practice at the University of Missouri-Kansas City's School of Nursing and Health Studies. In addition, Ms. Krom is the PI/CO-Director of the CDC-funded National Capacity Building Assistance for High Impact HIV Prevention Resource Center.  An experienced educator, instructional designer, and technology transfer specialist, Ms. Krom serves in an advisory capacity for several national groups. 

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