Addiction Policy Forum Succeeds 

Addiction Policy Forum Succeeds 
Posted by FoM on February 09, 2000 at 09:59:33 PT
Despite Political No-Shows
Source: Join Together Online
When life gives you lemons, the old saying goes, make lemonade. So when a planned New Hampshire candidates' forum on substance abuse fizzled, organizers switched gears and turned the event into a successful town meeting that tackled subjects like parity coverage for addictions and welfare reform.
Anticipating last month's New Hampshire primaries, a group of 75 local and national substance abuse organizations began planning last June for a meeting that would bring the leading political candidates together for a discussion on treatment and prevention issues. Organizers were hopeful of a good response, because in the 1996 primary season the local chapter of the National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors had held a similar event with the participation of a number of second-tier presidential contenders. "We felt we needed to get alcohol and other drug issues on the table and hear what the candidates want to do about them," said Denise Devlin, director of community development for the New England Alliance for Addiction Recovery.But when the group tried to line up candidates like Republicans George W. Bush and John McCain, and Democrats Bill Bradley and Al Gore, they found themselves getting the run-around from their campaign representatives. Staffers responded to early inquiries by saying they were premature; later requests for dates when candidates might be available were greeted by the reply that schedules were already full. "It was very confusing who to talk to" on the campaign staff, Devlin recalled. The group had hoped to get at least one major candidate to commit to the meeting in hopes of pulling others in. When that didn't happen, frustration mounted, and organizers considered canceling the event altogether.Instead, said Devlin, they switched gears and decided to change the focus of the meeting from a candidates' forum to a dialogue on alcohol, tobacco and other drug policy. The meeting would still be open to the public, but invitations also would go out to organizations, lawmakers, people in recovery and others interested in policy issues. Rather than having political candidates discuss their positions, a panel was convened, with Join Together Director David Rosenbloom discussing public policy lessons learned from his groups work with local communities, and New Futures director John Bunker covering best practices in the field of environmental prevention.As luck would have it, Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) was also in New Hampshire campaigning for Bradley, and meeting organizers succeeded in getting Wellstone to join the panel to discuss parity addiction coverage, which he has championed in Congress. The panel was completed when Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) agreed to take part and discuss the Clinton administration's record in substance abuse prevention and treatment, becoming a de facto representative for Gore. Representatives for the Republican candidates also were invited, but none chose to attend the meeting.In the end, the New Hampshire meeting organizers would up with a well-attended, spirited discussion on public policy that also touched on the current political campaigns, Devlin told Join Together. Besides Wellstone's call for leaders to become more engaged on the issue of parity, panelists and audience members discussed the conflicting philosophies of a federal drug policy that preaches the value of treatment on the one hand, and on the other wants to evict people from public housing for having a past drug conviction, Devlin said. Nor have organizers given up on impacting the political process. "We're preparing a paper summarizing the proceedings, highlighting the public comments, which we will get out to all of the political candidates," said Devlin."It's always valuable to have the people who are most concerned with these issues speak out in favor of parity and the benefits of recovery," said Join Together's Rosenbloom. "It's my hope that the people in the room will continue to press these issues with every candidate running for Congress and their state legislatures as the campaign year proceeds."The sponsors, which included Devlin's group to the New Hampshire MADD chapter, Friends of Recovery of New Hampshire, New Futures, local treatment providers, and many others, also learned some valuable lessons about the political process. Joe Harding, coordinator of Friends of Recovery of New Hampshire, said it became apparent that his fledgling advocacy group for people in recovery needs to do more to educate politicians and policymakers, as well as the general public, about addiction treatment and prevention issues. "Politicians may not be familiar enough with these issues to respond," Harding said. He added that he would like to see substance abuse addressed as a non-partisan issue -- a goal that was not achieved at the Manchester forum.The organizers tried to be as accommodating as possible regarding dates and format, said Devlin, but she agreed that, in the end, the problem may have been that the candidates were not prepared to tackle a single-issue meeting on such a politically charged subject at this stage of the campaign. "This may not be an issue they want to talk about," Devlin said.Candidates also may have been turned off by the proposed format of the meeting, which would have put Democrats and Republicans together. "We were advised that candidates are not interested in going cross-party" during the primary, since at this stage they are competing for their own party's nomination, Devlin noted. "They also may not want to be in the room together, but rather have the chance to speak sequentially.""Our intention was to get some national attention to these issues and to get the candidates to think about these issues," said Devlin. "I don't think that happened. If you want to hear from the candidates, I think you have to force them to come to you. You need to go to these public hearings and town meetings and get your hand up and ask questions."Susan Rook, the former CNN anchor who moderated the New Hampshire meeting, has herself been an outspoken advocate for recovery. She noted that the Manchester forum highlighted both the strengths and weaknesses of the field. On the one hand, she noted, the strong attendance on Super Bowl Sunday showed that people in the field really do care about issues like parity. On the other hand, she noted, "Our silence is costing us votes, power and clout.""If there were 200 CEOs in that room, do you think the presidential candidates would have shown up? Or if there were 200 AIDS activists, with their history of getting out the vote?" Rook asked. "We need to educate not just the people in policy positions, but those in the recovering community that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. So, squeak!"Web Posted: February 8, 2000  Find this article useful? You'll find 20,000 more just like it on Join Together Online: Subscribe for free at: Reproduction or distribution of this information is encouraged!Join Together, a project of the Boston University School of Public Health, is a national resource for communities working to reduce substance abuse and gun violence. For information, email info 
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Comment #1 posted by FoM on February 09, 2000 at 10:27:27 PT
Here's the correct link!
I forgot to take the period out so here is the correct link!
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