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White House honors 10 citizens for leading efforts to stop the prescription opioid and heroin overdose
In spite of her best efforts to help her son overcome his addiction, Justin Phillips lost 20-year-old Aaron to a heroin overdose in October, 2013.
Countless grief-stricken moms across America have had to face similar unthinkable tragedies like heroin overdose. Only a few manage to turn such a horrific experience into something positive.
That’s what Phillips, of Indianapolis, IN, did in 2014, when she helped create a non-profit called Overdose Lifeline Incorporated. Now the Executive Director of the group, Phillips helps addicts find treatment and educates first responders and families how to use naloxone (well known by the brand name Narcan), a drug that can reverse an opioid overdose.
Overdose Lifeline also helps people obtain naloxone from retail pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens, which recently began carrying naloxone, as well as other distributors.
Phillips was invited to the White House in April, to be honored along with 9 other White House Champions of Change, selected from among over 900 nominations by the White House drug program “for leadership in preventing prescription drug abuse and heroin use, increasing access to treatment, and supporting the millions of Americans in recovery.” Phillips was nominated for the honor by U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly (D) of Indiana.
The event at the White House included a select group of doctors, law enforcement and non-profit leaders, as well as administration figures including the White House Director of National Drug Control Policy, Michael Botticelli. Phillips shared her story alongside the other honorees, including the following:
- Anita Bradley, of Cleveland, OH, is the founder and Executive Director of the Northern Ohio Recovery Association. Anita has created a peer-to-peer training program offered at a local community college, opened the residential Next Step Recovery House, and launched the Statewide Network for Addiction to respond to the opioid crisis.
- Leonard Campanello, Gloucester, MA, is the now famous police chief who instituted programs that are being emulated by police departments across the country, and who has worked tirelessly to end the stigma of addiction by adding law enforcement’s voice to those suffering with substance use disorders.
- Leslie Hayes, Española, NM, is a family practitioner at a rural, underserved community health center. Dr. Hayes’ particular passion is caring for patients with opioid use disorders, especially pregnant women and new mothers who have substance use disorders to make sure that they and their babies receive compassionate and appropriate medical care.
- Tom Hedrick, New York, NY, is one of the founding members of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids (“the Partnership”), which focuses on evidence-based prevention communication messages through the media.
- Andre Johnson, Detroit, MI, is the founder, president and CEO of the Detroit Recovery Project, a recovery community organization providing peer-led, peer-run, and peer-driven services in Detroit. Andre has been in long-term recovery from a substance use disorder for nearly 28 years, and over the past ten years he has raised over $15 million Federal, county, State, and local grants for DRP.
- Shawn Lang, Hartford, CT, is Deputy Director of AIDS Connecticut (ACT) and active with the group since 1991 where she coordinates public policy activities, and who was recently appointed to the Connecticut Alcohol and Drug Policy Council. Since 2013, Shawn has chaired Connecticut’s Statewide Opiate Overdose Prevention Workgroup.
- Julio Medina, Bronx, NY, is the founder and Executive Director of Exodus Transitional Community, a reentry program in various state communities. Julio, a former prison inmate for drug charges in the 1980s and 90s, is the Founder and Executive Director of Exodus Transitional Community, and addresses the widespread struggle of substance use disorders.
- Justin Luke Riley, Denver, CO, is president and CEO of Young People in Recovery (YPR), a national grassroots organization with over 100 chapters nationwide focused on peer-to-peer services for young people seeking recovery from substance use disorder. YPR aims to improve access to treatment educational resources, employment opportunities, and housing that sustains young people in their recovery.
- Barbara Theodosiou, Davie, FL, founded The Addict’s Mom, after learning that two of her sons had substance use disorders. The group is a forum for mothers suffering the adversities that accompany addiction in a loved one, offering both online and in-person support, education and other resources.
Each “Champion” briefly told their story, and Justin Phillips stressed the need to break the stigma attached to substance abuse.
“To be able to do that on a national platform in such an important venue, with other amazing advocates is just incredible,” she said. “I knew how desperately important it was to me to speak up, but I never would have dreamed of actually being at the White House doing it in this short amount of time. Absolutely not!”
Phillips efforts since her loss have led to the enactment of “Aaron’s Law” in April, 2015, making it legal for naloxone to be available at Indiana pharmacies without a doctor’s prescription. Overdose Lifeline has distributed over 300 naloxone overdose reversal kits to families and individuals and developed a prevention education program for the State of Indiana.
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