September is a special time for all Americans. We celebrate the contributions of the hardworking men and women on Labor Day, and we snap photos of our kids as they head off to their first day of school. But September has also become special to many Americans for another reason: It’s when we recognize National Recovery Month and celebrate the millions of Americans in recovery from addiction and mental illness.
For the two of us, this issue is personal. David’s nephew Ian died of a fentanyl overdose after a five-year battle with addiction; he was just 24 years old. And as someone in recovery from alcoholism himself, Marty knows firsthand how challenging the fight against addiction can be. Our experiences are not unique. More than 21 million Americans are in recovery from a substance use disorder (SUD), and more than 13 million are receiving mental health treatment. That’s why this year’s National Recovery Month theme is Recovery is for Everyone: Every Person, Every Family, Every Community.
This is the 32nd year we are celebrating National Recovery Month, but this year may be the most important yet. COVID-19 struck a devastating blow to the marginal progress we had made in recent years against our country’s addiction and mental health crises. Last year, more Americans died from an overdose than ever before. More than 93,000 of our friends and neighbors succumbed to this devastating disease. That’s a record we never wanted to set. Recent data from NIH also indicates that overdose death rates are skyrocketing among Black Americans, Native Americans, and Alaskan Natives relative to the general population. From the district David represents in Maryland to big cities and small towns that Marty visits across the country, there is not a single community that has been spared from the devastating effects of the addiction epidemic.
Our mental health suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic as well. Social distancing, necessary quarantines and fear of contracting this dangerous disease has not surprisingly led to increased cases of depression and anxiety. This year, a report from Mental Health America (MHA) showed that more people are reporting frequent thoughts of suicide and self-harm than have ever been recorded. Our country’s addiction and mental health crises are now five-alarm fires as a result of COVID-19.
That’s why in Congress and in President Biden’s Administration, we are taking action to honor National Recovery Month.
President Biden has proposed historic new investments to expand access to prevention, treatment, harm reduction and recovery support services all across our country — including a focus on underserved communities and the advancement of recovery-friendly workplaces.
In Congress, David is bringing together Democrats and Republicans in a Bipartisan Addiction and Mental Health Task Force to tackle this issue head on. Together with his colleagues, he is working to increase funding for prevention, treatment and recovery resources; invest in life-saving medical research to help those in recovery; combat the scourge of stigma surrounding addiction and recovery; and prioritize evidence-based recovery strategies.
In the Department of Labor, Marty is strengthening enforcement of the law requiring parity for mental health and substance use disorder treatment in employment based health insurance, and prioritizing workplace awareness of mental health and substance use risks, as well as the resources available to help.
As essential as this work is, we are also doing more. We are both talking openly about our experiences being impacted by substance use disorder — including its terrible harms and the immeasurable hope found in recovery. By sharing our lived experience, we can advance policy conversations, and we can create space for other Americans to share their own stories. By reducing the stigma and shame around addiction, more people will ask for help before it is too late. And all of us impacted by this disease — which means everyone — can work together to make decisive progress in ending it.
What that means is every single one of us can help. This September, let’s honor National Recovery Month by speaking out and taking action to help every American find and remain in recovery. We invite you to talk about how addiction has impacted you — and what can you do to ensure that recovery is for everyone.
David Trone is a member of Congress representing Maryland’s sixth district and Marty Walsh is the U.S. Secretary of Labor.