Randy Anderson said that he volunteered to plan this year’s International Overdose Awareness Day rally in Minneapolis for one practical reason.
“I’m an alcohol and drug counselor,” he quipped, dryly. “I can’t treat dead people. They need to be alive in order for me to help them.” The rising number of opioid overdose deaths in Minnesota makes it harder and harder for Anderson to do the work he loves. “If we don’t do something soon,” he said, “I won’t have a job.”
Anderson may sound cynical, but he’s anything but: As a board member for the Steve Rummler Hope Foundation and men’s program counselor at RS EDEN/Eden House Recovery Services in Minneapolis, he’s committed his professional life to helping people beat addiction.
“This is a serious problem,” he said. “I have to do something to help.”
Personal commitment to opioid crisis
Anderson’s personal history of addiction gives him a unique understanding that no one is guaranteed a life free of challenge. With that truth in mind, he volunteered to organize this year’s Overdose Awareness Day rally on Wednesday, Aug. 31, from 4-6 p.m. outside the Federal Courthouse at 300 South Fourth Street in Minneapolis. Following the rally, at 7 p.m., there will be a candlelight vigil at All God’s Children church, 3100 Park Avenue South in Minneapolis.
Last year, as a volunteer with the Fed Up! Coalition, a national group of organizations working to encourage federal action to stem the tide of opioid addiction, Anderson traveled to a Fed Up! rally in Washington, D.C.
“We marched from the Washington Monument to the White House,” he recalled. “I chanted slogans in a megaphone and led the crowd. I was left so inspired that I was committed to doing anything I can to significantly raise awareness at the local level.” This commitment led to Anderson’s involvement in this year’s rally.
The Minneapolis event won’t be the only rally in the state this year. There will be three Overdose Awareness Day rallies on the 31st: in Moorhead, Cass Lake and Minneapolis.
Anderson is hoping that the Minneapolis rally, which will feature high-profile speakers, including U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger, Minnesota Sen. Chris Eaton (DFL), and Minnesota Rep. Dave Baker (R), will draw a large crowd. (Representatives for U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar have indicated that she may also attend the rally if her schedule permits.)
Other scheduled speakers include a number of “ordinary people who have lost loved ones to this epidemic,” Anderson said. The Rummler Foundation is one of the event’s sponsors.
Anderson explained that the rally’s location outside the federal courthouse was selected intentionally, to bring the conversation to the seat of power and encourage decisionmakers to focus their attention on the crisis.
“We’re holding this rally on Andy Luger’s front doorstep,” Anderson said. “We wanted to be sure to gather people where he works, so he could tell them what is important to him and what he is doing to reduce the number of overdose deaths in Minnesota.”
Other speakers were selected for their personal involvement in the overdose epidemic, Anderson said: “Senator Eaton helped us write a some important bills, including Steve’s Law. She lost her daughter to overdose. Representative Dave Baker also lost a child to an overdose. He’s been an important sponsor of our legislation. They will both tell their personal stories and explain the work they are doing to fight opioid addiction and death.”
Lexi Reed Holtum, Steve Rummler Hope Foundation executive director, said that the event’s high-profile speakers send a signal that state and national leaders are taking the opioid addiction crisis seriously.
“Having Luger speaking is a huge statement,” she said. “This rally is a call to action for our federal government to step up and create change. His presence says they are committed to taking action.” And other speakers, including Minnesota addiction activist Star Selleck, who lost her 19-year-old son Ian in 2009 to a heroin overdose, will help underscore the message that opioid addiction touches everyone.
“The No. 1 reason why people are dying is because there is still a perception out there that, ‘This is not going to happen to my family,’ ” Holtum said. “The reality is this a doctor-created epidemic. These deaths are happening in every single socioeconomic class in the country. It doesn’t matter what ethnicity you are. It doesn’t matter how educated you are. People are getting addicted and dying.”
No one is immune
In the midst of such a crisis (in 2015, 47,055 Americans died of opioid overdose, making it the leading cause of accidental death in the country), do rallies really make a difference?
Anderson believes they do. If the only way a person hears about opioid addiction and overdose is through news reports, it is easy to dismiss it as someone else’s problem, he said.
“As a treatment provider, the three worst words any parent can say is, ‘Not my kid.’ In affluent suburban areas, I hear it all the time. I say, ‘You can’t say that anymore, because it is happening right in your back yard.’ These rallies are another way hearing other voices, of making people aware that addiction and death can happen to anyone anywhere. Overdoses touch everyone.”
“Rallies create change,” she said. “It all comes down to creating awareness through education and giving people the tools they need to be able to help create change. These are all important things that we can do when we come together.”