Taking the wraps off a pair of new federal efforts to address addiction in rural America, Tom Vilsack did the expected thing, the sorta-surprising thing and the totally knock them right out of their socks thing.
Left sockless was a group of more than 1,000 people attending the 2016 Summit on RX Drug Abuse and Heroin in Atlanta. Vilsack, head of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, was among the opening speakers at the Summit Monday. Tuesday afternoon, his boss – that would be the President- will show up for what is described as a Town Hall meeting.
But Monday night, it was Vilsack’s turn.
After announcing that his agency would be giving out $1.4 million in grant money to assist in researching opiate addiction in rural America, and that he would take part in a series of town halls in states hard-hit by the drug crisis, Vilsack explained the origins of his concern.
“I started life in an orphanage in Pennsylvania” before being adopted, he said. It was a loving home, but there was a problem tearing it apart: “My mom had a prescription drug addiction and she was violent. She was mean. She tried to commit suicide a couple of times.
“It was a tough situation. My parents split up for a period of time. I nearly flunked out of high school.”
He said he judged her harshly, something he now regrets.
“I thought all she had to do was stop taking medications. I did not realize that at that point in time, we were dealing with a disease.”
But, Vilsack said, “on December 25, 1963, she realized she hit bottom.”
His mother got sober, said Vilsack. “She could not have done that without a 30-day treatment program. She could not have done it without a supportive community.”
With an estimated 78 Americans a day dying from prescription opioids, Vilsack said, entire communities now need to step up: Pastors and community leaders as well as doctors and government.
“Person by person, we can do this,” he said. “We must do this.”