A Call for The Walls of Voices Project: No More Shame for People Suffering From Addiction

This is a call for building Walls of Voices to honor the more than 700,000 people who have perished in America’s drug epidemic over the last 20 years. They passed away in silence, in secret, and in shame. Their voices cry out to us for recognition, reconciliation, and reform.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt were created to respect and mourn those who suffered and were overtaken by horrors that were not of their making, but whose lives previously had been overlooked. For the same reason, our country must now memorialize those who have fallen in America’s drug epidemic.

By building Walls of Voices, our nation will finally admit its terrible responsibility for having done nothing to stop this soundless slaughter of the innocents.Also, we will thereby vow to no longer turn a blind eye and a deaf ear when the minds, hearts, souls and spirits of persons are desperate for acknowledgment,acceptance, healing and relief — to be seen and heard.

We lost more than 72,000 souls to drug overdose in 2017, the same 12 months wherein US life expectancy dropped for the third straight year due to drug fatalities and individuals taking their own lives. If one considers that many overdoses are suicides, then we are facing an epidemic of self-murder that outstrips the drug pandemic itself. And this baneful pestilence is the product of hopelessness, loneliness, and of feeling uncared for.

The origins of this plague can be found in fundamental changes to our societal structure, a shocking increase in reported cases of child abuse, the breakdown of the nuclear and extended family, severe financial hardship, unemployment and poverty, a failed and corrupt mental health/care rehab system sporting a 95% recidivism rate, lacking federal standards, and using a feckless modality of the major misdiagnosing of patients with genetic/neurological disorders, Big Pharma’s pushing OxyContin as anon-addictive painkiller panacea when it was highly addictive, the societal depletion of virtue, ethics, compassion, and morality, and our having stigmatized those afflicted with mental distress and addiction.

It is time that we put the shame where it belongs. The shame belongs to us, not to those who suffer with addiction. The shame rests with our leaders and everyone who not only ignored but blamed, demeaned and devalued those in need of real help. The Walls of Voices creates a powerful illustration of this.

If this were the incursion of a killer virus like Ebola our government would find a way to aggressively halt its influx and spread, discover a cure, and develop a vaccine against it. We must demand the opioid/drug addiction and suicide epidemic be approached in exactly the same way. We must give voice to the people already lost in order to save millions more.

I wrote Saving Jenny with a single goal: to help find a way to save lives. In this regard, it is vital for everyone to understand that they should not wrongly judge people with addiction as indulging in a vice and a corrupt lifestyle because there is very little choice involved. Most of those tormented by substance abuse disorder are suffering from multiple devastating traumas and losses since an early age, and frequently also socio-economic deprivation. They are persons who (because of harms inflicted upon them by others and by our society) are in unendurable emotional and mental pain, feel acute despair, and use drugs to self-medicate, as a last stop before suicide. And then, tragically, the drugs disrupt normal neurotransmission and reception, resulting in a disease of physical/psychic enslavement that cannot be blocked easily at will, and make overdose all the more likely.

As John Donne wrote:

Any man’s death diminishes me — because I am involved in all Mankind; and therefore, never send to know for whom the Bell tolls: It tolls for Thee.

We must bring people back to health and the freedom to pursue their God-given right to happiness. By our building the Walls of Voices, we will dedicate ourselves to this mission, create memorials that lawmakers cannot ignore, and establish a permanent reminder to never let this happen again.

Vivian Percy is the author of SAVING JENNY.