Concerns over the number of overdose deaths

Rep. Madeleine Dean and her son Harry Cunnane, co-authors of “Under Our Roof,” discuss their decision to go public with their struggle and experience.
5:49 | 02/25/21

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Transcript for Concerns over the number of overdose deaths
story highlighting the struggles of addiction. Last year the CDC reported the highest number of overdose deaths ever in a 12-month period, concerning many that the pandemic is only worsening the opioid crisis. Joining us now with personal experience on the issue are authors behind the book "Under our roof, a son's battle for recovery, a mother's battle for her son." Pennsylvania congresswoman Madeleine Dean and her son Harry Cunnane, thank you for joining us. Harry, eight years sober. That's a big deal. I see the smile on your face. Eight years of sobriety. That story is one that certainly you can celebrate privately, why, why is it important for you to get your story out there? Thank you so much. First of all, eight years today, I just, I remember so vividly times when I couldn't even imagine getting a day, so I need to always keep that in mind. The idea for us, telling this story publicly, specifically in a book, actually came from my older brother, who had suggested that we may have a story to tell. He was a writer. When he was asked to do a second book, he came to us and said maybe my brother and my mom do. And really what guided us the whole time was hope we try to help someone. You just mentioned the numbers, over 81,000 deaths. I've lost so many friends. I've seen so many people struggle. And I know for me, when I was living an active addiction, I oftentimes didn't see enough of the hope. I didn't see enough of the recovery stories. I think a lot of what we have out there oftentimes in the media is just that, it's the horror stories. We need to focus on substance use disorder as a disease, and as a treatable disease. I mean seeing someone like you and giving people hope is so powerful. So congratulations and kudos to you for being brave enough to tell your story. Representative Dean, I want to talk about what you are going through at the time because you were a rising star in the democratic party when this was all unfolding, under your roof, as your book says. What was that discovery period like, when you realized what was actually happening to your son? You're absolutely right. Literally the day that we confronted Harry because we discovered what was going on was one week to the day before my election to a full-term in the Pennsylvania house. I had been in for about six months, and I was being elected to a full-term. So it was high campaign mode, but more important to me was figuring out what was going on with Harry and most important was us getting him to recovery and him saying yes. Harry, you mentioned too often the stories are only seen or talked about when it's too late, when it is actually a tragedy, it's gone too far but you're sitting here now. You're married, a father of two. I'm told you have a third on the way, if I have that right as Yes. And this is a success story. But what is it that happened with you, that allowed you to come out of it, to have success, that maybe another doesn't have? It may be that woman sitting next to you. It might be mama. It might be family. It might be support. But what were you getting that you think so many others aren't? There's so many factors and it's hard to pinpoint just one. I mean the love and support of my family has been incredibly valuable. We were also incredibly fortunate to access really high quality treatment and long term treatment which is sadly something that a lot of people don't have. So that's an area that we need to focus on in terms of really bringing this issue into mainstream medicine, and treating it with evidence-based practices in a quality and professional manner. Taking the stigma away, and looking at recovery. And hope is so important, but help is very important. And representative Dean, I want to ask you what you think the role of the federal government is with that? Is there enough -- are there enough resources for people who need the help, want the help, but can't fund the help? No, there certainly aren't. That's another reason why we wanted to put our story out there, to shine a light on it, to try to stop the stigma, and also to bring policies forward. We know a lot of Harry's success came from where he lived, his socioeconomic status, the color of his skin. We understand white privilege. Harry does not have a criminal record as a result of his addiction, and the disease that he struggled with, and is in recovery from. So I, at the state level, and now at the federal level, am part of a working group on addiction and policies around that, whether it's criminal justice reform, so that people are not incarcerated, because of addiction or mental illness, that they are actually given treatment, that we get more treatment beds to more people, not just those who can't afford it. This needs to be mainstream health care. We can save lives, we can save communities. There's so much we want to do to end the stigma, change how we look at this through the criminal justice system and instead get it into our health care system. And this as we pointed out is a growing epidemic in this pademic and this is such a well-timed message, and we appreciate and applaud your courage and your efforts, representative Madeleine Dean and Harry Cunnane. Thank you for being with us today. We appreciate it and you. Thanks for having us. And everyone, don't forget to pick up a copy of "Under our roof" in stores now. As we said, doc, it is too often treated like a criminal issue, a crime issue. It is a health issue and when it is treated that way, that is what is possible.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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