Addiction Prevention Coalition
By PAIGE TOWNLEY | Photos by DANNY MOLLOY
Steve Briggs turned his son’s struggle with addiction into a grassroots movement.
It’s no secret that teen deaths due to drug overdoses in the United States are increasing. For the Addiction Prevention Coalition, these statistics cannot continue, and the organization is doing all it can to reverse this trend.
Birmingham, Alabama, resident Steve Briggs started the Addiction Prevention Coalition close to a decade ago when his son Alex was struggling with a heroin addiction. “As all parents do, we didn’t believe it at first,” Briggs says. “The more we discovered, the worse it all was. We struggled to figure out what to do. And like so many other families and people who suffer, we dealt with the shame and guilt surrounding addiction.”
The journey the Briggs family went through was long, and eventually, Alex got help and is now doing well. But the family knew they could use that struggle to help others going through the same torment. “We didn’t know the places that were available to get help or how to get to them,” Briggs says. “So as Alex improved, it became a spiritual journey for us to help others.”
It started out as simply creating an online resource directory so that individuals or families could find the information they need to get help, from recovery facilities and transitional housing to support groups, counselors and doctors. But it became so much more. “We quickly realized that so many people wanted to collaborate and the task was bigger and more significant,” Briggs says. “Drug addiction in Birmingham was so much deeper than we originally realized.”
From there, the coalition made a conscious effort to reach students, starting voluntary chapter programs at high schools in the Greater Birmingham area. Each monthly meeting is student-led and adult-guided, and the discussions focus on topics such as leadership skills, decision-making, compassion and whatever else the students feel like discussing.
“We don’t focus on drugs,” says Brand Ambassador Danny Molloy, who joined the coalition about four years ago. “We believe that small choices can lead you to a path of addiction, so we work with students on making good life choices.”
Part of hosting these student meetings goes well beyond giving good advice and encouraging students to make positive choices in their lives. It’s also about talking on their level and being honest.
“We want to speak their language and tell them the truth,” Molloy says. “We don’t sugarcoat things. We talk about the serious ramifications of drug use. And part of that is being honest about our own past struggles. Many of us at the coalition have a past affected by drug addiction, including myself. I’m a former heroin addict, and it’s good to share with students how I was able to break that addiction.”
In addition to raising awareness among students, the coalition also recognized the need to raise public awareness, whether that’s teaching communities or helping families trying to remove the shame surrounding addiction. “We want to get past the stigma, shame and guilt associated with this,” says Addiction Prevention Coalition Executive Director Mike Vest. “We want to make people feel OK about coming forward and asking for help. We’ve got to have open, honest conversations.”
To help remove that stigma, the coalition maintains an active social media presence and hosts awareness events with free breakfast and speakers who share information about the signs and symptoms of substance abuse. “Educating parents is huge,” Vest says. “We must bring more awareness to parents, but in addition to that, we must increase awareness among everyone in the community. We want to help people before a behavior turns into an addiction. We’re thinking outside the box, trying to be proactive.”
That proactive attitude led the coalition to bring together numerous groups from within the local community to fight together to raise awareness and end the drug epidemic, including politicians, law enforcement, health professionals, school officials, former addicts, and friends and family members of those who have died from an overdose.
“We want to bring this topic out of the shadows of shame and guilt,” Briggs says. “Recovery is possible. Prevention is possible.”