Over 26 years ago, I woke up in a hospital bed because of a substance use disorder. Like so many others in my condition, I had hit rock bottom before getting treatment.

The obvious risk factors, including my family’s history of substance use disorders, hadn’t been enough to get me help preventing or treating my disease in the early stages. Instead a court required treatment for me. The process was difficult, but it marked the beginning of my road to recovery. I never dreamed that road would also lead to working in the White House.

The journey

For far too long, people with substance use disorders have been expected to hit rock bottom before getting treatment. There have been many reasons for this—often based on long outdated misperceptions. Despite the fact that nearly every community and family have been affected by substance use disorders, we rarely discussed them openly.

Medical professionals didn’t routinely ask about them during checkups or screen for them when prescribing powerful drugs. Many insurance companies didn’t provide care for them at the same level as other medical conditions. And while most parents urged their kids to avoid junk food, fewer had conversations about drinking or drugs.

The consequences have been painfully clear: In 2013, one American died every 12 minutes from an overdose, most involving opioids, which include prescription pain medicines and heroin.

"We have lost daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, neighbors and friends. A substance use disorder is a chronic disease that can be prevented and treated, and from which recovery is possible."

We have lost daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, neighbors and friends. But we are not powerless to respond. A substance use disorder is a chronic disease that can be prevented and treated, and from which recovery is possible.

Speaking up

My personal experience in long-term recovery helps guide my work, advancing efforts across the country to prevent and treat opioid use disorders based on the latest scientific evidence.

For example, law enforcement officials and first responders are now being equipped with naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug that has been saving hundreds of lives. States are monitoring opioid prescriptions to prevent overprescribing and diversion, which have been major contributing factors to the epidemic. More doctors are now screening patients for substance use disorders and taking greater care when prescribing potentially addictive drugs. And more people with opioid use disorders are finally getting access to the care they need, including medication-assisted treatment, through expanded access to health care. We must build on these and other promising initiatives.

You may be reading this while fearing for a loved one with an opioid use disorder. Or you may be worried about your own prescription pain medicine or heroin problem. I want you to know that help for this disease is available. Millions of us are living healthy, productive lives in recovery from substance use disorders. You don’t have to hit rock bottom before getting help. The road to recovery can begin today.