Gov. Brian Kemp made an appearance Tuesday morning at the Georgia Freight Depot, where hundreds of people in longterm recovery from addiction gathered to celebrate Addiction Recovery Awareness Day.
The message from the community to Kemp is that people in recovery come from across the state. They get better, they buy homes and they vote, Executive Director of the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse Neil Campbell said.
"It's not just an Atlanta thing," Cambpell said. "It's not just a legislature thing. It's a Georgia thing that there are people in recovery all over who want to help."
But as much as they want to help, they need help, too.
Kemp praised those in long-term recovery and said he was renewing the promise to help those struggling across the state by proclaiming Jan. 28, 2020, Addiction Recovery Awareness Day.
But what Campbell said matters most is educating legislators about the importance of funding and making sure people speak up about addiction.
"Getting well should not be something that's always anonymous," Campbell said.
Three to four people a day die of overdose in Georgia, and, in 2017 alone, more than 5,000 people died. If that many Georgians a day died of Ebola, lawmakers would have a laser-like focus on the issue, Campbell said.
"Because it's addiction, people don't necessarily understand it or they think it's something we do to ourselves as people who use alcohol and drugs and have an addiction problem," Campbell said.
Georgia ranks 16th in the country for overdose deaths, Kemp said during his speech.
"These statistics are alarming and this public health crisis must be addressed," he said.
Kemp said he supports the billboard campaign "Georgia Recovers" that began last summer with money from Congress's response to the opioid crisis. The funds were distributed by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities.
“I’m incredibly proud of the Georgia Recovers team,” Kemp said.
He also wants people to know they are not alone and Georgia has more recovery organizations than any other state.
“I know that we can save lives, restore families, strengthen our communities and make Georgia a safer and healthier state for all,” Kemp said. "This campaign is actively working to change the social norms surrounding substance misuse and addiction. And it is literally saving lives."
To continue the work the Council does takes money and Campbell said the organization never truly caught up after budget cuts related to the recession in 2009.
At that time, the opioid crisis was beginning and prescription drug overdose was starting to build, and addiction services took the lion's share of the budget cuts, she said.
"We don't feel like we've ever been made whole in terms of appropriate funding for our services," Campbell said.
“These are our kids” says Jennifer Bryant Hodge. The faces represent the people who die every week of overdose. pic.twitter.com/Z9on6MKsW5
— Ellen Eldridge (@EllenEldridge27) January 28, 2020