A Call to Action

by John Shinholser

A Call to Action by John Shinholser

Every day, addiction affects thousands of people: families, neighbors, and communities. With your help, we can make a difference. We can reduce stigma and secrecy. We can effect political change. Together, we can succeed.


The McShin Foundation received In Recovery Magazine’s 2016 Making a Difference Award.


It’s sad to say, but the stigma surrounding addiction and recovery is killing as many people suffering from substance use disorders (SUDs) as are the drugs and alcohol themselves. Addiction is simply not treated as a disease. Not yet.

Think about it. Almost everyone I know who suffers from cancer is seeking and receiving appropriate care, yet a person with an SUD has to be in a criminal justice situation or near death in order to receive appropriate care. Our culture perpetuates stigma, which prevents intelligent people from seeking help when they or their loved ones first show the signs of addiction.

This year alone, we are likely to see more than 51,000 deaths due to drug overdoses. This does not account for the several hundred thousand alcohol- and drug-related deaths that might have been prevented. We rarely, if ever, see these causes of death in the obituaries.

Often, the survivors of those who died from addiction were partially responsible for instilling the stigma against this disease, thus preventing their loved ones from seeking needed help or, at the very least, fortifying their sense of denial – “I’m not that bad.” Upon their death, the one time when family members could let the community know they’ve lost a loved one to an SUD, there is no mention of the disease that killed them. This matters!

Our policymakers are hoping this epidemic will magically disappear. It seems people really don’t want to do the right thing. Look around. Are law enforcement agencies turning in unused funds and asking for smaller budgets? Do jails and prisons want to downsize? How about hospitals, ERs and ambulance services – are they slowing down? Not to mention the corporate board rooms. Are pill manufactures and alcohol producers shooting for less output and reduced profits?

Special interest groups want secrecy. They want to hush the obituaries and the families of those who have lost loved ones to this disease. We need you. If we don’t speak out, the stigma will live on. Without your help, those of us fighting every day to change this culture against addiction will have to fight longer and harder to succeed. There will be many more unnecessary deaths.

If you have buried a loved one and missed your chance to raise awareness about addiction, please consider doing so on your loved one’s birthday or death anniversary. If even half the people who have lost loved ones to addiction will speak out, public opinion will begin to shift. Substance abuse policy is made in every community around the country. If local politicians were to see truthful obituaries, they wouldn’t be able to deny what is happening in their districts.

As stigma is reduced, research, recovery and treatment funding increases. More people are able to find help and services in the early stages of SUDs. Education is key for helping people to realize the danger of ignorance, denial and apathy in the fight against addiction. Ignorance is killing people, just as bullying kills kids.

Endorsing the stigma around addiction is a form of bullying; the very people you love the most end up being hurt the most. An untruthful obituary is a final act of bullying. Some people might think I’m nuts, but I encourage you to think about my ideas. If you know someone these ideas might help, share this information with them.

Cultural stigmas start at home, usually at an early age, and are passed from one generation to the next. Are you willing to stop this trend?

Americans have a great history of making sweeping changes when change is needed. Sometimes these movements begin slowly, yet still change happens. Policy happens more quickly at the state and local levels. Remember the old saying, “All politics are local”? Now is a very good time to transform attitudes about addiction in your community.

Every day, addiction affects thousands of people: families, neighbors, and communities. With your help, we can make a difference. We can reduce stigma and secrecy. We can effect political change. Together, we can succeed.

John Shinholser is the President of the McShin Foundation, founded in 2004 in Richmond, Virginia, by John and his wife, Carol McDaid. John has dedicated his life to helping individuals and families in or seeking recovery from the disease of addiction. mcshin.org




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