Addiction and drug overdoses claim one life every four minutes in America. In the time it takes to order a latte, someone dies—from an illness that is highly treatable. The addiction crisis is the result of social prejudice; criminal justice policies that incarcerate people with addiction instead of giving them treatment; health care policies that make it difficult or impossible to get medical help for substance use disorders; ignorance; and “abstinence-only” drug policies that are ineffective and backwards.
The fact is, people who struggle with substance use disorder are treated like second-class citizens. Admitting there’s a problem can mean losing your job, home, and custody of your children. That makes addiction a civil rights issue. And, thanks to the work of advocates across the nation, it’s finally being recognized as a moral issue, as well.
Thought leaders like Tom Steyer are helping to drive this message home. I first met Tom during the Democratic National Convention. I had just shared my experience with addiction and recovery when Tom approached me. I was taken aback by the story he shared. He, too, lost someone very dear to him due to addiction: his best friend, who struggled with addiction for decades. His friend contracted HIV and Hepatitis C through drug use, and died of medical complications due to his illnesses.
A few months later, Tom joined me at the Facing Addiction in America summit in Los Angeles, where we invited him to share his story on stage with the U.S. Surgeon General. As Tom talked, tears filled my eyes. He said, “We must embrace our shared humanity and recognize that addiction is a deadly, chronic illness, not a personal failing.” I’d lost friends, too. I was at risk, too. It was time to bridge the gap between policies and public awareness.
People like Tom Steyer and other pioneering philanthropists, who give tens of millions to progressive causes such as medical research, environmental causes, and water quality, must…