This week we are reblogging a guest blog from the Phoenix House. It profiles Judy Rummler, founder of the Steve Rummler Hope Foundation and leader of the recent FedUp! Rally that took place in Washington, D.C., this past weekend. Thank you, Judy, for being an action-oriented advocate for overdose prevention.
Our guest blogger this week is Judy Rummler, president of the Steve Rummler Hope Foundation, which provides programming and hope for those with chronic pain and addiction. She has been chair of the FED UP! Coalition since its inception in 2012 and is working with the committee that is planning this year’s FED UP! Rally on Saturday, October 3 in Washington, D.C. The coalition and annual rally bring together individuals and organizations to prompt federal action to end the epidemic of addiction and overdose deaths related to opioids, encompassing both heroin and prescription painkillers. Here, in a Q&A conversation, she discusses FED UP!, the rally’s goals, and what individuals can do to help fight the U.S. opioid epidemic.
Phoenix House: How did you become involved in FED UP!?
Judy Rummler: My son Steve died of an accidental opioid overdose after becoming addicted to the painkillers that were prescribed to him for his chronic pain. After his death, my husband and I created the Steve Rummler Hope Foundation to provide hope for those with chronic pain and addiction. We had no idea at first that his death was part of a national epidemic of overdose deaths, but we quickly learned that federal action would be required to bring this epidemic to an end. I started attending hearings at the FDA [Food and Drug Administration], where I met Dr. Andrew Kolodny. And I met others there who were passionate about creating change, many of whom had also lost loved ones. We decided that change would come faster if we created one voice as a coalition.
PH: When you first started, what did you hope FED UP! would accomplish? Has it lived up to your expectations?
JR: One of our first goals was to get the FDA to reschedule hydrocodone combination products from Class III to Class II, which was important because a doctor’s visit is now required for refills of prescriptions for these drugs. This has happened. We also wanted to increase public awareness of the epidemic. We now see it in the news regularly. So, we are happy with these and other successes, but there is much more to do!
PH: What do you hope will come out of this year’s rally?
JR: We hope to get President Obama to speak out about the epidemic. It wasn’t until President Reagan spoke out about the AIDS epidemic, after 20,000 deaths, that the nation began to seriously look for solutions. We have a petition on change.org asking the President to provide the needed leadership and speak out about the opioid epidemic.
PH: What part of this year’s rally are you looking forward to the most?
JR: This year’s rally will be held on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the site of Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous speech. I am looking forward to this special location and to our partnership with UNITE to Face Addiction—in addition to our usual array of amazing speakers.
PH: When most people hear “prescription drug abuse,” they think of a teenager rummaging through the medicine cabinet looking for a quick high. How does that jibe with what you know about the opioid epidemic?
JR: The root of the epidemic is the overprescribing of opioid painkillers, not the “abuse.” The medications in medicine cabinets were prescribed to someone. Many people mistakenly believe that because these medications are prescribed by a doctor that they are safe.
PH: What do you wish you could say to people who currently have a loved one struggling with opioid addiction?
JR: This is a very difficult question. My husband and I did everything we could think of to save our son from the disease of addiction. I now know more than most people about the disease, and I would do some things differently, but I’m still not sure how we could have saved him. I would tell people to learn as much as they can about the disease as soon as possible and to be sure that medication-assisted treatment is available at any addiction treatment program they might choose.
PH: If someone can’t attend the rally but would like to do something to fight the opioid addiction epidemic, do you have any suggestions for things they can do?
JR: I would suggest that they join an advocacy group in their local community that is working to fight the epidemic. I would also encourage them to tell their story as often as they can. Public awareness of the issue is increasing, but we need more people to speak out.