By: Ryan Hampton

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18 months ago, I wasn’t sure if I was going to live or die. But because I was able to access treatment for addiction, and now live in sustained recovery, I began a 2,500-mile trek to the Democratic National Convention as an elected delegate this past Saturday. On my way to Philadelphia, I hope to shed light on America’s most urgent health crisis and inspire our policy leaders of both parties into action. I hope they’re listening.

I started my day early on Saturday at my sober living in Pasadena with a close group of my friends, all young people in recovery who organized their community, and made it possible for me to be elected delegate to the DNC and be a voice for recovery.  I couldn’t help but look around the room at their faces and think “what if”? What if one of them relapses? What if one of them dies? This has been an all too familiar experience for me this past year.  Four of my close friends became statistics to addiction, which has now reached crisis-proportions.  And if the statistics hold true, only 1 in 10 of my friends will be able to access treatment if and when they really need it – leaving 90% to fall through the system, with a possibility that more could die while in the process of seeking help.

This is wrong and it makes me angry.  But the only thing I know how to do at this point is to turn that anger into action. So, with my best friend and brother in recovery at my side, I decided to spend my first day on the road to the convention looking at the crisis we face in my hometown of Los Angeles, a city which has long been the embodiment of the American dream to me. It felt appropriate to begin my journey here because Los Angeles county is the perfect microcosm of the addiction crisis across America.

I met up with Mike Bloom, owner and operator of the treatment center where I was able to access recovery almost a year and a half ago.  I always knew I was lucky, but meeting with Mike for the first time since living in sustained recovery opened my eyes and really had an impact on me.  It’s been a hard few years for his facility as they’ve been cut from federal, state, and local funds that they used to receive to subsidize care for individuals who don’t have the means to enter a private treatment facility.  And, unfortunately, the wait time for access to public facilities typically exceeds 30 days. While waiting, people often die. I realized that my story is not unique, that there are millions of Americans currently battling daily to get the help that they need.  I remember the horror of waking up every morning, calling multiple treatment centers at specified time blocks only to be told that beds weren’t available, and likely wouldn’t be for multiple weeks. Being placed on waiting lists, knowing that my window of willingness to keep fighting for help was waning by the hour, were some of the most terrifying moments in my entire life.

Shortly after sitting with Mike, I drove to pick up my new friend, Daniel, a man who for over a decade was a beacon of hope in the LA recovery community. Daniel had maintained recovery for over 12 years, was of service to his community, and even worked as a substance abuse counselor.  However, about a year ago, Daniel experienced a relapse. And unlike the care one would receive if their relapse were related to cancer or another serious illness, Daniel was unable to access medical care and treatment, leading him into homelessness and a year of hell that robbed him of his family, dignity, and career.  Just like me, and everyone else suffering from addiction, Daniel deserved another shot at life. Another shot so that one day he could pay it forward, just like I was fortunate enough to do on Saturday. Daniel will be attending a 30-day program at the same facility I got clean and sober at and we’ll be following up on his progress throughout the trip. I’ve never seen a grown man so relieved and willing to change his life. Daniel told me that if he had to go on the way he was living, he likely wouldn’t make it another 30 days.

I’d like to invite you to join me for the first 7-minute episode of Facing Addiction Across America – The Crisis, documenting our first day on the road to the DNC. It’ll give you an intimate peek into how we, as a country, are facing addiction right now.  My next stop is San Francisco, followed by Denver. And we’re just getting started.

In 12 days’ time, I’ll arrive in Philadelphia as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. However, I won’t be alone.  I’ll be arriving with the voices of those I’ve met on the road – Democrats, Republicans, Independents and the millions that have joined the movement known as Facing Addiction in America.

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