ATLANTA – Tackling a problem as diverse as prescription drug abuse and addiction requires extraordinary collaboration and effort.
Earl Gohl, federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), was honored Tuesday, April 7, by U.S. Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers (KY-5th) for being a driving force behind the nation’s largest collaboration of advocates working to solve the prescription substance abuse epidemic.
“Day-in and day-out, Earl Gohl goes to work for some of the most impoverished communities in the nation,” Rogers said during the 2014 National Rx Drug Abuse Summit. “He doesn’t just commit funding to the cause, he personally dives into projects that he believes in – providing advice and expert guidance.”
Rogers presented Gohl with a “Visionary Impact Award” for his leadership and for carrying forward the “banner of multi-level partnership with great vigor and courage.”
Since taking on his role at the ARC in 2010, Gohl has “been in the foxhole” with Operation UNITE, an anti-drug organization in Southeastern Kentucky that has organized the annual Rx Summit for four years.
Rogers noted that in the ARC’s first report 50 years ago “they showed wisdom beyond their years, reporting the ‘tangle of problems in Appalachia calls for a uniquely tailored program.’ They said federal, state and local agencies were desperately needed for any successful solutions, and they were right.”
ARC’s mission is to be a strategic partner and advocate for sustainable community and economic development in the 13 Appalachian states. They have been the Education Partner for the Rx Summit since inception.
The Visionary Impact Award is inscribed with a quote from President John F. Kennedy, founder of the ARC in the 1960s: “There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.”
President Kennedy’s comments were echoed by his nephew, Patrick J. Kennedy, following the award presentation.
Patrick Kennedy, who served 16 years as U.S. Representative for Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District, used emotion, humor and drew from personal experience to energize Summit attendees around the issue of treating mental health and addiction.
“People say (mental health and addiction) treatment doesn’t work. Of course treatment doesn’t work,” Kennedy said, “because we’re waiting until they are on death’s door to do something about it.”
Kennedy, who developed an OxyContin addiction after back surgery that ultimately led to his arrest, is author and chief sponsor of the “Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act” of 2008, which guarantees equal access to mental health and addiction services.
“This bill is only as good as it is implemented,” Kennedy said. “We have the tools in our tool kit. What’s missing here is the political will to do it.”
“We do early screenings for cancer … for diabetes … because we can’t imagine what it would be like to live with the consequences. But, imagine if we took that same philosophy and applied it to mental health and addiction,” Kennedy said. “We’ve got to begin treating the brain like we do the rest of the body. We have a fundamental, 180-degree change to make in this country.”
Addiction “takes you hostage,” Kennedy told Summit attendees. “You’re helping to shatter the silence (about) an illness that needs to be treated.”