One year ago December 14, a tragedy took place in Newtown, Connecticut — 20 children and 7 adults were shot to death by Adam Lanza, a troubled teenager whose mother was among the victims. Lanza also killed himself. Some leaders in the treatment advocacy field were moved to start a campaign to limit access to guns and expand access to mental health and substance abuse treatment (see ADAW, Dec. 24, 2012). Eric Goplerud, Ph.D., senior vice president and director of the substance abuse, mental health, and criminal justice studies department at NORC at the University of Chicago, and Ronald Manderscheid, Ph.D., executive director of the National Association of County Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability Directors, led the call to action.
Below is their response to ADAW’s request for a comment on what has happened in the past year.
“The Newtown tragedy cried out for a response from the mental health and substance use community, from those of us with direct experience of mental illness and addiction in our families, in our personal lives, and in our work and neighborhoods. With thousands from our community, we developed a National Call to Action last December in response to the terrible pain that the Newtown families experienced, and the needless pain of untreated mental illness and substance use that sometimes tragically mixes with guns in this country.
“We both felt that those of us who have intimate experience with these illnesses have a moral responsibility to speak out, in sympathy and in anger. We called for a national commitment to improve early identification and care of persons with mental illness and substance use conditions; to increase the capacity of schools and communities to prevent where possible and to recognize and refer or treat when necessary; and to improve service availability.
“We worked with many others to organize community pressure for action on these issues, as well as on gun control. There was remarkably broad-based support for action from the mental health and addiction communities through the first half of 2013.
“But when action on gun control failed in the US Senate mid-summer, mental health and substance use improvements failed with it. Since the Newtown tragedies, there have been more than 11,000 Americans who have died from guns. These are 11,000 more tragedies, added to the 28 who died in Newtown last December.
“The Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act, originally part of the gun-control package, included several of the key recommendations in the National Call to Action. The bill passed the Senate 95 to 2 as an amendment to the proposed gun-control legislation. But it died with the gun-control bill.
“We know the effect of untreated mental illness and addiction. We know the effect of gun violence on survivors and their communities. We know how much of this pain can be prevented. We must rekindle our efforts to advocate gun control and improved mental health services on this first anniversary of the Newtown tragedy. The innocents, their teachers, and the 11,000 who have died from guns since December 14, 2012 deserve nothing less.”
For a copy of the original call to action by Manderscheid and Goplerud, go to http://www.alcoholismdrugabuseweekly.com/Feature-Detail/cry-for-the-innocents-and-then-act--.aspx.