Ryan Hampton is the organizing director of the Recovery Advocacy Project and founder of the Voices Project. He is the author of Unsettled: How the Purdue Pharma Bankruptcy Failed the Victims of the American Overdose Crisis and American Fix: Inside the Opioid Addiction Crisis - and How to End It. In our conversation with Ryan, we discussed his journey in recovery and his work advocating for people with drug addictions, others in recovery, and family members of those impacted by addiction.
Substance use disorder is a complex condition that affects the lives of millions living in the U.S. According to Ryan, “there are 23 million people in long-term recovery in the United States. There are about 40 million to 45 million Americans currently struggling that need help right now based on statistics from 2020 to 2021 by 1 and 3 American households that are directly impacted by substance use disorder.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that in the United States, more than 106,000 people died due to a drug overdose in the 12-month period ending November 2021.
Ryan emphasizes the lack of funding and resources for addiction treatment. He says, “We don’t have a robust addiction treatment workforce in this country. We don’t have the capacity to train that many people if we needed to. We don’t have funding for recovery community organizations, and we don’t have funding or infrastructure for recovery housing.”
The Recovery Advocacy Project (RAP) was founded in 2019. It is a nonprofit organization that is the sister partner of the Voices Project. RAP is committed to giving people in recovery, family members, and recovery supporters the grassroots organizing tools to think and act locally. Over the past few years, RAP has made “substantial” growth, according to Ryan. He says, “We had 115 listening sessions to hear from the community what their needs were…We had over 20,000 unique action takers on pieces of legislation that we worked on in different states…, [and about] 1400 organizing meetings took place between 2020 and 2021.” He credits the grassroots volunteering efforts for RAP’s successes in these few short years.
Ryan speaks about his personal experience recovering from drug addiction while highlighting the role the addiction treatment drug buprenorphine has played in his recovery. He says, “Today, my Pathways accident, I’ve been absent since 2015. I was on buprenorphine for the first part of my recovery, it quite literally saved my life, but we now have civil rights protections in place… just a few short weeks ago that will keep medical providers, housing providers, and others from denying access to people care because they are on addiction treatment drugs such as buprenorphine.” For example, Ryan says, “it took a lot of advocacy and a lot of time meeting with the Biden administration and the DOJ to get them to really specify opioid use disorder as a protected class under the Americans with Disability Act.”
Harm reduction is another essential component of the drug recovery continuum. Ryan says, “Fentanyl overdoses are now the primary driver of accidental death for teens in this country,” He continues by saying, “We have got to start recognizing that fentanyl testing strips, broad access to Naloxone, mutual aid groups for people who use drugs… these are all things that will work and the Biden Administration has recognized harm reduction as its own leg on the stool essentially in their drug strategy.”
In 2017-2018, Ryan wrote the bestselling book, American Fix: Inside the Opioid Addiction Crisis - and How to End It, in which he describes his personal struggle with addiction, outlines the challenges that the recovery movement currently faces, and offers a concrete, comprehensive plan of action towards making America’s addiction crisis a thing of the past. In the summer of 2016, Ryan took a road trip and traveled across 28 states over 30 days to speak directly with policymakers, people in prisons, drug users and their families, the homeless, and people in long-term recovery. He described American Fix as “my story of going across the country and learning from these different community members.”
Ryan’s most recent book is titled Unsettled: How the Purdue Pharma Bankruptcy Failed the Victims of the American Overdose Crisis. This book gives a shocking inside account of reckless capitalism and injustice in the Purdue Pharma bankruptcy case. Ryan says the book, Unsettled “gives you a glimpse into the power struggle that we face every day as people in recovery, as people who are directly impacted by this crisis.”
Ryan hopes that addiction treatment can become more mainstream in the future and reduce barriers to minimizing the treatment gap. 9/10 people who need treatment don’t get it. “It is my hope that through our advocacy and collective work with providers and scientists and policymakers that we can get to a place where it is streamlined right into the Primary Healthcare System.”
Mobilize Recovery is a free movement from September 29th- October 1st, 2022. It is an initiative of the Recovery Advocacy Project and the Voices Project, where attendees will learn innovative strategies & tactics for grassroots organizing & recovery solutions.
You can access our 2022 virtual sessions with employers, benefits consultants, telehealth leaders, health plans, and more within the Going Digital: Behavioral Health Tech free video library to hear more conversations like this.