In a powerful, touching post this weekend, the CEO of Facebook highlighted the opioid addiction crisis that is impacting communities across America. “Treating an epidemic like this is complicated and the people I met say it’s years from even peaking,” he said. “But they also came back to the importance of connection and relationships.” By bringing his powerful voice to this cause at a critical time—when so many people are losing their lives to addiction—Zuckerberg is helping to change the conversation and prompt solutions to be brought to the forefront urgently.
Zuckerberg met with families of loss and people in recovery in Dayton, Ohio on Saturday. They talked about how important it is to reduce the stigma that comes from being touched by addiction, and how criticizing or condemning people who have a substance use disorder makes it so much harder for them to seek treatment. The first-ever Surgeon General’s report on addiction, Facing Addiction in America, confirmed that only 1 in 10 people receive any kind of specialty treatment, but that “substance use disorders can be effectively treated, with recurrence rates no higher than those for other chronic illnesses such as diabetes, asthma, and hypertension. With comprehensive continuing care, recovery is now an achievable outcome.” In his post, Zuckerberg said, “The opioid epidemic is one of the worst public health crises we’ve faced. More people die from it today than died from AIDS at its peak, or than die from car accidents and gun violence. The rate is still growing quickly.”
According to Lori Erion, who attended the meeting as a representative of Families of Addicts (FOA), Zuckerberg was so moved by what he heard in people’s stories that he had to leave the room to compose himself. He returned a few minutes later to continue the discussion. Erion said, “Mark definitely understands the gravity of the addiction crisis. You could see it in his eyes. He has a tremendous reach. By using his platform and resources to change the national conversation around addiction, he could save millions of lives.”
For those of us who have devoted ourselves to advocacy on addiction issues, this meeting could be a watershed moment. FOA is one of an action network of 555 organizations that partners with Facing Addiction, a national non-profit organization. These groups have come together to bring a unified national platform to the forefront and promote real solutions to the addiction crisis. And now their grassroots work is being noticed by people like Mark Zuckerberg—who have the influence, resources, and interest to potentially change this fight forever.
The meeting in Dayton was only a small part of what Zuckerberg could do to address the opioid epidemic. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, founded by Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, will invest $3 billion over the next decade to help scientists find better tools, treatments, and groundbreaking medical technology to eradicate some of the most devastating illness. Substance use disorder belongs on the list, right next to cancer and heart disease.
The fight is not just about compassion—it’s about scaling solutions we know are possible and the Surgeon General made clear in his report. People like Mark Zuckerberg can significantly expedite and scale the rate of progress. Zuckerberg’s voice in the fight against the opioid crisis is invaluable, but he can’t carry this burden alone. We hope that his willingness to meet with and talk to people facing addiction will open the door for other Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and influencers to engage on the leading cause of death for young people in America.
In his post, Zuckerberg said one woman who has been clean for a year told him, “If we’re in active addiction it doesn’t mean we’re not human. Even if we’re not living our potential at this moment, we have a chance to do something with this life.” We have so much potential, and so much to give. To get there, we need understanding, support, and a place to share our stories.
We’re ready to get to work, Mark. Every person struggling with addiction should have access to affordable, effective treatment and a chance at living his or her best life. It’s time to make addressing the addiction crisis a priority. We won’t get there alone: we’ll get there by taking on this task together, and facing addiction with compassion, courage, and hope.