Rappelling Event Raises Funds, Awareness About Addiction

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Penny Mills, MBA, ASAM Executive Vice President/CEO, puts her faith in her harness as she prepares to rappel down the side of the Austin Hilton Hotel Thursday.

About 70 determined individuals rappelled 22 stories down the side of the Hilton Austin Hotel in ASAM’s Shatterproof Challenge Thursday. What inspired them to take a plunge from such a height? They sought to help end the stigma of addiction and raise funds for prevention, treatment, and recovery.

Mark Schwartz, MD, FAAFP, FASAM, who has been in recovery 25 years, said that just as early sobriety can be a scary time for people in recovery, so can rappelling down the side of a building.

“The Shatterproof Challenge was a great way to step up—or in this case down—to raise awareness about the availability and importance of treatment for addition. My recovery has been profoundly rewarding, and I know that without the benefit of treatment and support I would not have had such a positive outcome. One step at a time and one day at a time, we can work toward a rewarding goal,” said Dr. Schwartz, a member of the ASAM Board of Directors and Medical Director of Inpatient Detox Services at Princeton (New Jersey) House Behavioral Health.

ASAM and Shatterproof combined forces to bring this empowering event to fight addiction to ASAM Annual Conference attendees. Shatterproof is a national organization committed to protecting children from addition to alcohol or other drugs and ending the stigma and suffering of those affected by the disease.

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It’s a long way down as participants make their way down the side of the hotel.

For Jason Powers, MD, accepting the Shatterproof Challenge was natural because he said his core purpose is consistent with Shatterproof’s four strategic pillars:

  1. Unite and empower all Americans to fight this disease.
  2. Educate the public about the disease to end the stigma.
  3. Advocate for change in public policies to bring down barriers to effective prevention, treatment, and recovery.
  4. Fund research to identify and put into practice evidence-based programs and strategies.

“Like Shatterproof, I’ve dedicated the last several years of my life to nourish and empower addiction professionals to thrive so they can model what is ‘healthy’ and provide the best possible care instead of feeling shattered. I, too, have set out to do what I can to fill gaps in the treatment system because we owe those with addictions more than what they’ve been getting in general,” said Dr. Powers, author of Positive Recovery and Chief Medical Officer of the Right Step, a Texas-based addiction treatment center.

Another participant, Lizette Smith, who is in long-term recovery, said she was rappelling for her own sense of self.

“I feel like I’m pretty fearless, especially with everything I’ve gone through,” she said. “It was an awesome opportunity. I wanted to try to prove to myself that I have nothing to fear and that I have to trust in something,” said Smith, Chapter Lead of Young People in Recovery in Austin, Texas.

Gary Mendell founded Shatterproof in honor of his son, Brian, who struggled with the disease of addiction. For nearly 10 years, Mendell and his family exhaustively vetted rehab centers, therapies, and physicians in their search for support, guidance, and help. As the disease advanced, he said, they were distraught by the lack of readily available research and resources for families. Tragically in 2011, Brian took his life. He was 25, and 13 months clean.

In the months that followed, inspired by the compassion of his beloved late son, Mendell left his more than 25-year career as a business executive and set out to learn what could be done to prevent others from experiencing the heartbreaking loss and destruction of this insidious disease. He founded Shatterproof—originally known as Brian’s Wish—with a personal commitment of $5 million and the goal of transforming the way addiction is prevented and treated, as well as ending the stigma associated with addiction.

Mendell, who took part in 14 Shatterproof Challenges that attracted 1,000 participants across the country last year, said Thursday’s participants had worked to raise $1,000 or more each, with 100 percent of funds raised going to Shatterproof and ASAM programs.

“When I launched this organization, I knew we had to call attention to this horrific situation. Each day, 350 people die because of addiction, and it doesn’t have the public discourse that it deserves. I wanted to bring people together and empower them around this cause,” Mendell said.

The Shatterproof Challenge is a metaphor for successful recovery, he said.

“The hardest step is the first step. After that, you rappel down step by step, always looking at the sky until your feet hit the ground. You have rope volunteers and professionals, family, and friends cheering you on and supporting you,” said Mendell, whose organization will double its rappelling challenges this year.

In 2015, 100 percent of funds raised by Shatterproof will focus on four initiatives:

  1. Increase the number of state-level campaigns to pass legislation that reduces the number of deaths from overdose, such as Good Samaritan laws, expanded access to naloxone, mandatory use of state prescription drug monitoring programs, and prescriber education. Shatterproof has already helped to pass legislation in Kentucky and West Virginia, and continues to concentrate on Florida and Connecticut.
  2. Expand the use of SBIRT, a screening and intervention program for young adults to reduce the number of young adults who develop the disease of addiction.
  3. Reduce the stigma of addiction and raise funds for its prevention, treatment, and recovery.
  4. Educate families through a nationwide Shatterproof Ambassador Program.

“There is no other organization in the United States that I’m more proud to be affiliated with than the American Society of Addiction Medicine,” Mendell said. “I’m just honored to be associated with an organization whose mission is to advance the science around addiction medicine. I’m appreciative of all the work that ASAM does. I’m truly honored to partner with ASAM, and I know my son is honored through me.”

An online photo album is available through Shatterproof.