I have family members that had cancer. They fought their diseases courageously. They had a broad and deep support network during their struggles with access to the best treatment options in the world. Their fights were visible; they were considered brave. I can also tell you their names: Bob and Fred, my grandfathers.
I also have family members who have fought against a different type of disease — addiction to drugs and alcohol. Their battles, however, were viewed differently. They fought in the dark, sometimes embarrassed, usually ashamed, and often secretive with almost inaccessible treatment options. I can’t tell you their names. They don’t want anyone to know.
Why is that? Why is there a stigma associated with addiction and substance use disorders that pushes those struggling with these challenges into the shadows? Why is it that addiction is treated like a second-class disease despite affecting every age, gender, race, religion, and socio-economic status?
Addiction and substance use disorders have devastating consequences on individuals, families, and communities. In 2014 in Massachusetts alone, there were 1,256 opiate-related deaths. Nationwide, prescription opioid abuse costs society $55 billion a year in healthcare, criminal justice, and lost productivity. The recent surgeon general report on addiction states, “Alcohol misuse contributes to 88,000 deaths in the United States each year; 1 in 10 deaths among working adults are due to alcohol misuse.”
The stark realities of substance use disorders and the devastating impact to individual lives and families are overwhelming. Perhaps just as striking is how we, as a society, view addiction and recovery. A fight with cancer and a fight with addiction are viewed very differently. That societal view likely contributes to a lack of support and resources for those struggling with addiction. Why can’t we change the narrative around addiction and take this struggle out of the shadows? Why can’t we take away the stigma around addiction? What if we could?
The struggle with addiction and substance use disorders hits close to home for me — one reason why I’m excited to be working with Phoenix Multisport. As an engagement manager at Stand Together Foundation, I help steward our investments with Catalysts to help create maximum value and impact on the communities they serve. Stand Together Foundation is partnering with Phoenix Multisport to help expand their programming to new communities throughout the country.
Expanding Phoenix Multisport
With a strong belief that human connection is key in helping people break the cycle of addiction, Phoenix Multisport fosters a supportive, physically active community for individuals recovering from a substance use disorder who are choosing to live a sober life. Through pursuits such as climbing, hiking, running, strength training, yoga, CrossFit, biking, and other activities, Phoenix Multisport helps members develop and maintain the emotional strength they need to stay sober.
Their model is working. With national relapse rates averaging as high as 40-60 percent, those struggling with addiction face a persistent, devastating battle. Phoenix Multisport cuts those rates in half and has already reached over 20,000 people — proving the power of social connection in breaking the cycle of addiction.
Stand Together Foundation’s partnership with Phoenix Multisport is designed to enable long-term expansion throughout the United States by focusing on three primary objectives: expand New England programming, improve infrastructure and operations to increase program delivery, and implement a long-term growth strategy. Our partnership with Phoenix Multisport is founded on a belief in their effective model and a commitment to bring accessible, innovative, community-based treatment programs to communities across the country.
Having experienced tremendous success in Colorado and California, Phoenix Multisport is replicating its model in New England. The investment is initially focusing on opening an anchor chapter in Boston. An anchor chapter centralizes systems and programs at a brick-and-mortar gym. Programming offered at anchor chapters can include any or all of the following:
- Free physical, social, and educational activities.
- Targeted programs for special populations, such as families, veterans, youth, and corrections.
- Workforce development training and job readiness in physical fitness professions.
- One-on-one recovery support and outreach to individuals.
- Meeting spaces for partner organization services on-site at Phoenix gyms.
Boston will serve as a springboard for long-term investment in the New England area by providing a platform from which tailored programming can be deployed that meets the unique needs of New England communities. Further, the process of opening an anchor chapter, deploying community-specific programming, and acquiring and training talent to support programming creates a learning environment where Phoenix and Stand Together Foundation can rapidly capture best practices for scaling and replicating across the country.
Phoenix Multisport has the potential to impact millions of lives. I am excited to be part of the Phoenix Multisport – Stand Together Foundation team that will bring this opportunity into new regional communities. By harnessing the power of human connection and physical activity, Phoenix gives people hope that living a happy, healthy, and sober life is possible. But, it also does something else. The combination of human connection and physical activity helps remove the shame and embarrassment around substance use disorders. Instead of fighting invisibly, people can enter a supportive community familiar with their struggles.
I am excited and hopeful that in the not too distant future, because of Phoenix Multisport’s impact, I will be able to tell you the names of my family members that have struggled with addiction because the stigma will be gone and the narrative will change for the better.
Dana Sanford is an engagement manager at Stand Together Foundation and works with partner organizations to identify resources and solutions to their challenges. Dana attended the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he majored in political science. He then went on to earn a Master’s of Science in Business Administration at Boston University. Prior to coming to Stand Together Foundation, he served as a Marine officer for seven years and as a civil servant for the Marine Corps the last four years. Dana is married with two young daughters.