‘Shatterproof’ Battles Addiction

By Michelle Moskowitz
Sentinel Correspondent

On Oct. 20, 2011, Gary Mendell received a harrowing phone call in the middle of the night, a call that every parent fears; a call that would change his life and that of his family forever.

His loving son Brian was dead at 25.

Brian, who had struggled with drug addiction for over eight years, weaving in and out of eight different treatment paths, had taken his own life.

Even though he had been sober for some time, he revealed in the suicide note he left behind that it was the shame of addiction—and how hard it is to break free of it—that was just too much to bear.

Today, every four minutes a parent loses a child to addiction.

Today, overdose has become the number one cause of accidental death in the U.S., surpassing car accidents.

Understandably, Mendell found it incredibly painful to process his family’s tragedy and was unable to get out of bed those first few months after his son’s passing.

But in honor of his son’s struggle, he felt empowered to do something that could help other families who were also shattered by the pain caused by addiction.

As Mendell dove into the process of comprehensive research and much reflection, there were four startling facts that empowered him to take a stand and unfold the true epidemic that substance abuse disorders and addiction had become in this country.

1. Twenty-two million Americans are battling a substance abuse disorder, while almost 400 people die every day from the disease.

2. Nearly 8 out of 10 people who develop an addiction do so before their 18th birthday, while their brains are still developing.

3. Evidence-based research on treatment programs does exist, but is not being properly implemented or regulated throughout communities, nor within the healthcare system.

4. There was no well-funded, national organization dedicated to the disease of addiction, like those for diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

It was these key findings that became the catalyst to create Shatterproof, the first national non-profit organization dedicated to ending the devastation of addiction.

The goal of Shatterproof is to attack the disease, which Mendell calls a “disease that causes a change in one’s chemistry, not one’s character,” by providing access to critical information and resources on effective prevention, treatment, recovery and advocacy programs throughout communities as well as the health care sector.

“I wake up every day and go to bed every night thinking about all the other families that can be saved from this disease, and how can I do it even faster,” said Mendell.

“We know that teens who learn about the risk of drugs from their parents, are 50 percent less likely to use drugs than those who don’t,” added Mendell. “This is a chronic disease that requires a national voice.”

In just a few short years, Mendell and his dedicated team of ambassadors, advocates and strategic partners have made a significant impact through tireless, yet focused advocacy efforts and aggressive legislation impacting the health care industry and its constituents.

In support of Shatterproof’s mission to end addiction and increase awareness, Richard’s fine retail specialty store, at 359 Greenwich Ave., will be hosting an inaugural fundraising event, “Shatterproof Benefit: A Chef’s Tasting,” featuring fine cuisine from some of Greenwich and Westchester’s leading chefs.

The event will be held on Wednesday, April 26, from 6:30 to 9 p.m.

Tickets are available at shatterproof.com.

“Events like this, in a community like Greenwich, will bring people together and show that this is an issue we all care about,” said Mendell.

One of the organization’s major accomplishments was the successful advocacy for the “CDC Guidelines for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain,” which provides important guidelines for physicians in an effort to reduce the overprescribing of opioid painkillers, a main driver of the epidemic.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), more than six out of ten drug overdose deaths involve an opioid, a substance that works on the nervous system in the body or specific receptors in the brain to reduce the intensity of pain.

Common prescription opioids involved in overdose deaths include oxycodone (such as Oxycontin and Roxicodone) and hydrocodone (such as Vicodin).

Overdose deaths from opioids, including prescription opioids and heroin, have more than quadrupled since 1999, and now number about 33,000 annually.

But not only has the death rate increased substantially; so has the prescription rate.

In 1999, 60 million prescriptions were administered compared to the 240 million prescriptions administered in 2014.

In addition, one-third of all hospital visits are linked in some way to addiction, with almost half of emergency room visits for trauma or injury are linked to alcohol abuse.

In fact, every day, more than 1,000 people are treated in the emergency room for the misuse of prescription opioids.

Due to these startling statistics, Mendell also worked diligently to pass the federal Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), which requires that all prescribers check a state-run database each time an opioid painkiller is prescribed.

So far, this life-saving legislation is now effective in 11 states, including Connecticut.

In addition, the group advocated for the 21st Century Cures Act, which was signed into law by President Obama in December of last year.

This law increased funding for medical research and provided $1 billion in funding for opioid addiction prevention and treatment programs.

In partnership with Cigna Foundation and CVS Health, Shatterproof.com now serves as the premiere online resource destination for families affected by substance use disorders including evidence-based research, prevention, treatment and recovery programs.

Included on the website is a gripping, online memorial page where family members and loved ones can pay tribute to those who lost their lives to the disease as a lasting memory and a stark awakening for those who visit the site.

“It’s a forum for people to help save other lives with ‘you’ in my heart,” said Mendell.

Shatterproof also sponsors the Shatterproof Challenge Rappel and the Shatterproof Rise Up Against Addiction 5k, the largest peer-focused addiction event series, designed to unite families and corporations across the country in order to raise awareness, funding and provide key information to those in need, but also to help eradicate the stigma that comes with addiction that Brian Mendell suffered.

“Stigma isolates people, discourages people from coming forward for treatment, and leads some clinicians, knowingly or unknowingly, to resist delivering evidence-based treatment services,” said Michael Botticelli, director White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

To ensure the utmost in quality care and ensure efficacy from the more than 13,000 specialty treatment rehabilitation programs that exist in the country, Mendell has formed a Substance Use Disorder Treatment Task Force to serve as the ultimate checks and balances system for treatment.

This task force is comprised of some of the most highly accredited addiction experts in the country, whose mandate is to improve the overall quality of treatment for patients, implement on-going, up-to-date evidence-based treatment programs that will result in the best patient outcomes.

The Task Force, which will go into effect Oct. 1, will ensure that the most current research findings are implemented, not simply put in a report for years to come.

Current research shows that utilizing both medication and behavioral therapies can be effective in the treatment of substance abuse disorders.

One Greenwich resident this reporter spoke with (who wishes to remain anonymous) has a child suffering from addiction and undergoing treatment in a facility, was pleased to learn about Shatterproof’s mission and the fundraising event taking place in her community.

“Having an alcoholic child is distressing, very painful and heartbreaking,” she said. “It can take your breath away when life gets out of control with the addiction.”

She added, “As parents, we have felt guilty for not stopping this and sadness for watching our child destroy her life and body.  But we have hope.”

To purchase tickets for the “Shatterproof Benefit: A Chef’s Tasting at Richard’s of Greenwich” and to learn more about Shatterproof’s mission to end addiction, please visit shatterproof.org.

About Author: Michelle Moskowitz

Michelle Moskowitz is a reporter and ambassador for the Greenwich Sentinel. Ms. Moskowitz has an extensive background in media serving as the head of LIFETIME Television’s new media division, covering events and news stories all over the country. She was also VP of Business Development at BestSelections.com, Senior Manager at Young & Rubicam, and ran her own boutique Internet firm with a focus on content development. Ms. Moskowitz has been living in the Greenwich community for over a decade. She graduated from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. Email: michelle@greenwichsentinel.com

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