When Professional Advocacy Work Becomes Personal

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Photo courtesy of Ian Goldstein

By Ian Goldstein, Government Affairs & Senior Web and Digital Media Specialist, NACCHO

As a member of NACCHO’s Government Affairs team for over two years, I have been to Capitol Hill to advocate for policies and funding that support local health departments. I take great pride in helping voice the concerns of NACCHO’s members and educate Congressional staff about everything local health departments do to keep their communities healthy and safe. Many public health issues I advocate for are grounded in professional morals and ethics, but on March 1, my professional role became personal. I lost my 17-year-old cousin, Alexia Springer, to a prescription drug overdose.

Alexia, like most teens, was preparing for the next step after high school. She had been accepted into a dental hygienist program through her school. She was a friend, a sister, a daughter, a homecoming princess, and a volunteer in the Best Buddies program. Now she is gone. She will not walk across the stage and receive her high school diploma, nor go to her senior prom. She will not go to dental school. She will not buy her first car or home. On her bedroom wall there are inspirational quotes, one which struck me: “The best is yet to come.” She made a mistake at a party and took pills that were offered to her, and her life ended much too soon.

Make no mistake, prescription drug overdoses are an epidemic in this country. Prescription drugs do not care about your age, race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, or political affiliation. Alexia was neither a Democrat nor a Republican. She was a child; a child who did not understand the consequences of her actions and was able to access prescription drugs far too easily. In the wake of her death, my family is shattered by this tragedy, but we are committed to doing everything we can to prevent this from happening to others.

Unfortunately, Alexia’s story is not unique. Communities and families all across this country are hurting from the opioid and prescription drug epidemic. Public health professionals can do so much to ensure that this does not happen to more families in this country.

I urge you to take action. Do not be not silent.

One way you can take action is by visiting NACCHO’s Legislative Action Center and ensuring that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Opioid and Prescription Drug Overdose Program is fully funded. You can also join NACCHO’s Congressional Action Network, a group of public health professionals dedicated to making their voices heard at the federal level.

On March 10, the Senate passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) by a 94-1 margin. It now moves to the House for passage. You can urge your Representative to vote for the bill. You can also take action by thanking your Senators who supported CARA.

I can state pages of facts and statistics on this issue—that opioid and prescription drug overdoses take more than 60 lives a day, for instance, or that we need to educate, survey, treat, and train those in our community—but what impact does that truly have on policymakers? As public health professionals, serving on the front lines of the epidemic every day, your experiences needs to be heard. Your voice is needed to advocate for funding and policy reform to curb opioid and prescription drug overdose. Legislation like CARA is only the first step; much more work needs to be done to help communities, families, and individuals end the epidemic.

I will continue to advocate not only for programs that can halt the prescription drug epidemic but for all programs that help local health departments keep communities healthy and safe. I will continue to tell Alexia’s story, and hope that something positive can come from such tragedy. Please join me in making your voice heard by contacting your Members of Congress.

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