Brian’s Wish Formed to Turn Addiction Support into a Reality

Gary Mendell

Gary Mendell

Patients with cardiovascular problems have the American Heart Association in their corner. Patients with cancer know the American Cancer Society has their back. Patients battling addiction, though, don’t have a large national support system, and Gary Mendell wants to change that.

“No one is representing the people in this country who have this disease,” said Mendell, who developed his views on the subject the hard way—by watching his 25-year-old son, Brian, lose a battle with addiction and depression in late 2011.

“I did everything I could as a father to help him,” Mendell said. “Every time he would get out of a treatment program, he would relapse. The last treatment program, he stayed clean for over a year, and then, tragically, five weeks after his one-year anniversary, he took his life. That tragedy changed my life forever.”

To honor the memory of his son, Mendell decided to start a small charity. But after learning that 20 million people in the U.S. are dealing with addiction and that 18 million of them became addicted between ages 12 and 18, the magnitude of his charity effort changed.

“The frontal lobe of your brain, which controls reasoning and caution, does not develop until your early 20s,” he said. “If you are 14, 15, or 16 and you start using alcohol or pot, your brain changes. If you start using pot or alcohol when you are 25 years old, your brain is formed and you are much less likely to become addicted.

“If six kids smoke pot a few times a month in the back yard when they are 14 or 15, one out of six will become addicted. That one out of six who becomes addicted is not a bad kid. His brain is susceptible to become addicted, while other others are not.”

Researchers have developed promising programs to help prevent many of those youngsters from using drugs, but no one is implementing those programs, so Mendell has decided to tackle that task.

“There are no national nonprofits to educate the public on this issue,” he said. “Now we have health care reform moving addiction into the health care system. You put all of this together and this is the right time in this country to start a national organization on the scale and scope of American Heart or American Cancer to tackle this disease.”

Mendell is the founder and Chairman of HEI Hotels & Resort, but he is no longer involved in the day-to-day operation of the company so he can focus on Brian’s Wish, a starting point in his quest to start a major nonprofit organization to fill the void in battling addiction. He is working with a marketing firm to develop a new name for the organization, as well as branding and messaging. Brian’s Wish already has a board of advisors and a scientific board filled with prominent researchers and executives.

“What’s most important in addition to the name is the right messages that will speak to different target audiences in this country to understand that this is a disease and we need to get it out of the criminal justice system and into the health care system for people who have the disease,” Mendell said. “There are a lot of things we can do to prevent the disease; we need to protect our youth. And we can. Our fundraising campaign started in April, and received three commitments of $1 million in the first week.”

ASAM can play a key role in the effort, he said.

“We would like to work with ASAM on our screening program for pediatricians,” Mendell said. “We also would like to work with ASAM on a credentialing program for treatment facilities to make sure they are using evidence-based practices.”

The non-profit group will sponsor research to improve those programs, and Mendell said he expects the ASAM membership to be involved in that research. He encourages ASAM members who want to learn more to contact him by email or telephone.

“I need your help. Addiction needs a national commitment. Addiction needs a national voice,” he said. “Now is the time for us to unite as parents to protect our children. Public policy needs to be changed and we need your help to do so. Please go to our website, www.brianswish.org, and join our cause. And please use the ‘like’ and ‘share’ features to ask your family, friends, and colleagues to do the same. Now is the time for all of us to say ‘Enough.'”