Steven Tyler, Sheryl Crow, Joe Walsh hold Addiction Rally on National Mall

November 29, 2019 | (Jason Fraley)

WASHINGTON — As much as anyone, rockers know the dangers of addiction.

So, a number of them are gathering Sunday on the National Mall to raise awareness.

The UNITE to Face Addiction Rally will include free performances by Steven Tyler, Sheryl Crow, Joe Walsh of The Eagles, John Rzeznik of The Goo Goo Dolls, The Fray, Jason Isbell and Aloe Blacc.

“Being a recovered alcoholic, I can relate,” Walsh tells WTOP. “When you get addicted to something, you didn’t plan that when you first tried it. You tried it because it made you feel good. Then when you realize that, ‘Oh my god, I feel terrible unless I have some more,’ then it’s too late. … Addiction is rampant in the United States, and I’m talking about illegal drugs, prescription drugs, junk food, alcohol, cigarettes. Physically, medically, it’s tearing the country to pieces.”

So, Walsh joined up with the new nonprofit organization Facing Addiction, which is teaming with 650 partner groups to launch a campaign urging the U.S. to confront its addiction to alcohol and drugs.

“Joe Walsh was actually really instrumental in making this happen. He was one of the first big names to really get on board,” Organizer-at-Large Laszlo Jaress tells WTOP. “A lot of the artists that are involved have a personal stake. For instance, The Fray wrote that song ‘How to Save a Life,’ Steven Tyler is very vocal about his addiction and his recovery … and Jason Isbell is one of the other guys on the event and he’s very vocal about his recovery. So that Nashville connection has been very big.”

Jaress himself has been in active recovery for more than two years, since discovering he had a drinking problem while getting his bachelors and masters degrees at the University of Denver.

“Growing up, I was no stranger to substance use around me and I never thought I would become addicted,” Jaress says. “Drinking was really my thing, and I always really enjoyed partying. In grad school, I really discovered that it had just gotten out of hand. I was not the person that I thought I was. I was the hungover person all the time, I was really unhappy, and I could not stop drinking. That led me down the path of realizing I had to change something, and the one thing was drinking.”

November 29, 2019 | WTOP's Jason Fraley interviews rally organizer Laszlo Jaress (Jason Fraley)

So, Jaress moved to Washington, D.C. to do a fellowship at the Department of Commerce, before shifting away from economic policy toward his passion for helping fellow recovering addicts.

“D.C. is one of those places that thrives on specialties. You have to know what you want to do and convey a passion,” Jaress says. “One of the few things I’m really passionate about is my recovery and giving back, and I was just in the right place at the right time and got hooked up with Greg Williams.”

Williams directed the addiction documentary “The Anonymous People” (2013) before co-founding Sunday’s first-of-its-kind Addiction Rally, followed by an Advocacy Day on Monday.

“UNITE to Face Addiction will mark the first time our nation will collectively stand up to addiction, a health problem that impacts 1 in 3 households,” Williams says in a press release. “Twenty-two million Americans are currently suffering from a substance use disorder, and more than 23 million others are living in recovery. When you include the families of the afflicted, addiction impacts over 85 million people — we all know somebody. It’s not ‘those’ people, it’s all of us.”

Those statistics come from the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), but Jaress says the numbers become even more alarming the more you think about them.

“Every four minutes, someone is dying from an alcohol or drug-related death. That’s 300 people a day dying, a jumbo jet falling out of the sky, but no one’s talking about the rates,” Jaress says.

He says the addiction community needs a nonprofit “nexus” similar to the American Cancer Society.

“When you get cancer, your doctor knows what to do, there’s steps, there’s all this stuff in the same place, and that’s not there for addiction,” Jaress says. “Beyond that, it’s advocating for equitable access to treatment, to normalize addiction to make this the national health crisis that it is and bring that into the public consciousness. It’s really America’s hidden health crisis.”

If anything will bring it out of the shadows, it’s our one healthy addiction: the power of music.

“That’s a good addiction!” Walsh jokes.

You’ll be able to hear it loud and clear on the National Mall at 4 p.m. Sunday. Gates open at noon if you want to check out all of the various booths and claim a spot for the free concert. Guests should arrive at the northeast corner of 15th and Constitution, right next to the Washington Monument.

“Just to see an amazing, free concert on the National Mall in the fall in Washington, D.C., it doesn’t really get better than that,” Jaress says. “Beyond that, if it’s personal for you, you need to come out. If a family member has been affected, if it’s your personal recovery, you need to come out and stand with everyone to really stand against this national health crisis and really draw attention and make this the issue that it should be and is. That’s what you need to do. You just have to be there.”

Click here for more information on the UNITE to Face Addiction Rally.

November 29, 2019 | (Jason Fraley)

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