Law professor to lead rally to raise addiction awareness

Unite to Face Addiction-Michigan (UFAM) is hosting an all-day rally at the State Capitol in Lansing June 2 to raise awareness of the drug epidemic and to advocate for solutions. UFAM’s mission is to bring together the many grassroots organizations, recovery community organizations, prevention and treatment organizations, and other stakeholders in the addiction/recovery world to pursue common goals where a unified approach will have the greatest impact.

“It’s no secret that the United States is in the midst of the worst drug epidemic in its history,” said Lauren Rousseau, one of the rally organizers. Rousseau is a professor at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School in Auburn Hills and sits on the board of directors of two non-profit organizations focused on addiction treatment and substance abuse prevention.

Since 2000, drug overdose deaths in the United States have more than doubled, and beginning in 2013, drug overdose became this country’s leading cause of accidental death. Over 47,000 people died of drug overdose in 2014 – nearly 129 people every day.

Deaths due to drug overdose have increased exponentially in our state since 1999, reaching more than 1700 fatalities in 2014. The primary driver of this epidemic, both in Michigan and nationally, is addiction to prescription pain pills and heroin.

“There are so many things that need to change - at a policy level and also in terms of public perception – for us to effectively address the growing addiction problem and stop the deaths,” said Rousseau.

UFAM expects a large turn-out on June 2nd. “This is a state-wide event, and all addiction and recovery organizations are invited, as well as any and all Michigan citizens who are concerned about our addiction crisis,” said Jeannie Richards, president of Bryan’s Hope, a nonprofit organization focused on opiate education and substance use prevention. Other organizations partnering with UFAM to bring this rally to Lansing include MiHOPE, Alliance of Coalitions for Healthy Communities, St John Providence, Foundations Recovery Network, Home of New
Vision, Capitol Area Project Vox, Personalized Nursing Lighthouse, and Recovery Allies of Western Michigan.

“There is stigma associated with addiction that has prevented its treatment as a health issue and has created barriers to recovery,” Rousseau said. “Historically, we have treated addiction as a crime, and public perception and government policy reflect this view. People are afraid to admit they’re struggling with this disease, and treatment resources are inadequate to meet the need. We are losing a whole generation of young people to opioid and heroin addiction.”

The rally will start at 9:00 am and will continue all day. People are free to come and go as they please, with speakers taking the stage at approximately 10:30 a.m. The event will showcase many prominent, nationally recognized speakers, including Craig DeRoche, Senior Vice-President of Advocacy and Public Policy for the Prison Fellowship; Mark Lundholm, a comedian specializing in addiction and recovery humor who has performed on Comedy Central, A&E, Showtime, CBS, and NBC; Ivana Grahovac, Executive Director of Austin Recovery and a nationally-recognized speaker; Jodie Debbrecht Switalski, lawyer, former sobriety court judge, and Senior Associate with the Stutman Group; and Matt Ganem, an award-winning “spoken word” poet who writes about his experiences in heroin addiction and recovery. Musical entertainment includes Carly Keyes, winner of the 2015 “Sunlight in the Spirit” award from the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers; Chris “The Devil Elvis” O’Droski; and The Detroit Rescue Mission Choir, which is well-known locally for its electrifying performances. Multiple organizations will have information tables at the event, and there will be “activity tents” offering yoga demonstrations, massage, Reiki and other holistic healing methods, as well as naloxone (Narcan) training.

Scott Masi, outreach and referral specialist at Brighton Center for Recovery, has a leadership role in organizing the Unite to Face Addiction-Michigan rally. As a person in long-term recovery from addiction, he is sensitive to the importance of raising awareness about the power and possibility of recovery.

“People struggling with this disease need to know that recovery is possible,” said Masi. “They need to know that life after addiction can be wonderful, exciting, and fulfilling. Addiction is a disease of isolation. Stigma keeps people from seeking help, and keeps people in recovery from speaking out. One important goal of this rally is to show people struggling with this disease and their families that there are a whole lot of people who understand, who care, and who have made it to the other side – to recovery.”

For more information about the Unite to Face Addiction-Michigan rally, go to the UFAM website at

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