Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo told more than 200 recovering addicts, state officials and high school students that addiction is “the forgotten issue” in politics during the National Recovery Month gathering on Tuesday.
“This is the issue that’s really behind so many other issues that we have as a city, as a state, and as a country,” DeLeo said at the celebration at the State House.
National Recovery Month was created to raise awareness about the issues still facing the recovery and outreach process.
The 22nd recovery month celebration was sponsored in part by the Massachusetts Organization for Addiction Recovery an organization that helps people with substance abuse in the recovery process.
DeLeo said no matter where he goes in the state, addiction is the issue he hears about most often.
“It’s an issue that touches everybody,” he said. “I’ve heard countless stories about loved ones and the feat of dependency and addiction.”
But this year, the Legislature passed laws that increase awareness of the dangers of prescription drugs, cracks down on prescription drug fraud and increases access to treatment at substance abuse service, he said.
DeLeo said 911 callers are also now protected from prosecution when reaching out for help in an overdose emergency.
“This language, I believe, will save many lives,” he said.
DeLeo said the Fiscal Year 2013 budget also increased substance abuse service by about $2 million to $77.2 million total.
DeLeo said he had to attend three funerals within a three-week period of time this summer, each one mourning a young person who overdosed.
“I don’t know if you realize, but there was a time when I was getting more calls to get people into treatment than I was for getting kids into college,” he said. “That’s why I’m so passionate about this issue. I think you should be as well.”
Mass. Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray encouraged the crowd to speak up on recovery opportunities.
“September is National Recovery Month, and there are celebrations that are taking place all across Massachusetts in cities and towns from Boston to Springfield, from Greenfield to Fall River,” he said.
Earlier this year, Murray said he visited the Independence Academy in Brockton, the state’s fourth recovery high school, and had a chance to hear from students.
“There’s a palpable sense of relief when you listen to them that what they’ve found in their schools is support, the guidance, the mentorship toward recovery,” he said.
Several of these students said without these high schools and opportunities, they think they would be dead, Murray explained.
Murray said the Independence Academy at Brockton High School was founded after one father, whose son was addicted to OxyContin, spoke up and fought for a recovery high school in the southeast Massachusetts area.
“That accomplished high school in Brockton . . . was created by one voice, and that’s why your presence and your voices here are so important,” he said.
Students in the state’s recovery high schools also came to speak in front of the crowd about their experience.
Other speakers included Rep. Elizabeth Malia, of Jamaica Plain, and Sen. John Keenan, of Quincy, who are chairs of the joint committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse.
Samantha Bedard, a 21-year-old resident at the Faith House in Worcester, told The Daily Free Press she came because it is important to attend these gatherings with other people in recovery to show support.
Bedard said the important thing for recovering addicts to keep in mind is that they can do it, no matter what they are going through, as long as they keep pushing forward and “just don’t go back.”
Bedard said living in the house, which helps women with substance problems, has its ups and down but has generally been good.
“I mean, there are 20 women, so of course it’s crazy at times,” she said, “but if you just keep the focus on yourself and remember what you’re really there for then it’s all worth it in the end.”
The hardest part in the recovery process has been her feelings, she said, and the most important thing for loved ones of those in recovery to keep in mind is that it is a slow process.
“It’s going to take time — it’s hard,” she said. “It’s not only affecting me — it affects my family no matter what I do, so I need to keep that in mind that it’s hard on them too.”