The real faces of the opioid addiction will be on display Friday at the south end of the Las Vegas Strip.
“We have eight banners and each has pictures of 150 dead kids,” says Debi Goldstein Nadler Rolnik, founder of Mothers Against Drugs. “When people see their photos their mouths drop open because they can’t believe they look so clean-cut, so professional.”
Rolnik lost her son, Brett, in 2018 after battling addiction for years.
“There’s so much stigma, especially on the West Coast. People are afraid to speak,” she says.
“You should see the comments people made to me. It only made me stronger but other people are destroyed.”
“I knew there were too many moms like me laying in bed, unable to find their focus, their purpose,” she says. “I knew we could help the moms and the community.”
Rolnik says groups such as hers are often at odds with the recovery industry.
“There’s a great deal of separation between support groups and recovery groups,” she says.
“Unfortunately, the bottom line is there’s money to be made in recovery. There’s not money to be made in prevention.”
Her group’s current focus is legislation requiring funding for mental health education, beginning in elementary school.
“Mental health problems are too often identified as behavioral problems in school,” Rolnik says. “Brett was put on Adderall in third grade. Teachers are programmed to turn to medication.”
“We gave birth to our kids, we raised our kids. But they’re in school one-third of the time,” she says. “It takes more than parents. It takes a community.”
California Gov. Gavin Newsome recently budgeted $45 million to screen students for early childhood trauma. In 2018, New York became the first state to require mental health education in public schools. Virginia and Florida have since followed suit.
Aside from their grief, the parents in Rolnik’s support groups have little commonality.
“We are mostly Caucasian. That’s about all we have in common,” she says. “We trusted our doctors. If they gave us 150 pills, we took them all.”
Despite the ravages the opioid crisis has wrought in white America, a Washington Post analysis from 2017 reveals that since 2010, death rates are up among 25 to 44-year-olds in almost every state and every ethnicity and race.
The march on the Strip begins Friday morning at 9:30 at the Welcome to Las Vegas sign.