When it comes to the opioid epidemic, believe the hype: between 1999 and 2017, nearly 400,000 people died from an overdose involving an opioid. Even more alarming, the latest wave of overdose deaths, which began in 2013, increasingly involve synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

The big secret no one wants to talk about in terms of the opioid crisis is pain. Pain is a fact of life, and chronic pain is everywhere; according to the National Institutes of Health, more Americans are dealing with pain than diabetes, heart disease and cancer — combined.

“Addiction in America is still widely perceived as a moral failing rooted in personal choice,” says Fay Zenoff, executive director at the Center for Open Recovery. “Entrenched societal stigma keeps the blame on the victims, ensuring that the vast majority of people needing help will not find it. Some will end up in jail. Others will end up dead.”

Changing the conversation

There’s an increasing sense that a new, louder approach is necessary. Luckily, “loud” is something Thomas Sandgaard, founder of The Sandgaard Foundation to End the Opioid Epidemic, knows well.

“As a lifelong performer and music fan, I am inviting everyone to help us turn up the volume on this discussion,” says Sandgaard. “We’ve got to band together.”

Sandgaard, a professional musician who still rocks out on stage, founded Zynex Medical in 1996. He launched his new foundation out of a belief that there are huge gaps in the approach to the opioid crisis.

“I wanted to do more,” he says. “The disease of addiction and the threat of the opioid epidemic to our communities and families is the largest epidemic we’ve ever faced. It is a misunderstood and under-funded space. People talk about it like it is someone else’s problem but it is our shared responsibility. Many of us get addicted to something throughout our lives, whether it’s alcohol, drugs, work, exercise, food — but opioids are different. The opioid epidemic is a systematic failure.”

Walking the talk

The Foundation is exploring new ways to raise the volume on the crisis. There’s a plan to leverage their social media platform (especially their Twitter channel @SandgaardFnd) with provocative content, and will be promoting the #BandTogetherForOpioids discussion during National Public Health Week (April 2nd–8th). They also plan to roll out a 360-degree survey to kickstart a conversation about what’s being missed in response to the crisis.

Perhaps most innovatively, the foundation is taking inspiration from its founder to explore the way music will influence the foundation’s approach, something that Zenoff finds exciting.

"The opioid epidemic is a systematic failure.”

“One of the discoveries made during our conversation was the shared value and interest in utilizing music as a catalyst to attract, inspire and engage people to partner to find solutions that will end the crisis,” she says. The Center for Open Recovery recently worked with Above the Noise Foundation and the Voices Project to host Recovery Fest 2018 in Rhode Island, headlined by award-winning hip-hop/rap artist Macklemore, who has been very open about his own recovery.

Zenoff is excited about the possibility of partnering with the Sandgaard Foundation. “It is very noteworthy (and exciting) when a person of influence or an organization with means comes forward to stand with those of us already on the front-lines fighting this epidemic,” she says.

For Sandgaard, it’s all about cranking up the volume. “It’s time to increase public awareness, talk openly about opioid use, educate health care professionals — and change the way we treat pain.”

Go to www.SandgaardFoundation.org to help change the conversation.