Activists Rally in Support of Substance Abuse Prevention and Recovery


Christopher Samuels

(Photo by Chris Samuels)

By Carolyn Webber


(Photo by Chris Samuels)
(Photo by Chris Samuels)

Activists, recovery addicts and their family members gathered at the Utah State Capitol to support legislation in favor of treatment and prevention at the Rally for Recovery last Friday.


The event began with a silent walk around the capitol to honor those who have passed away due to substance abuse or mental health disorders. As community members filled the rotunda, long-term recovery patients joined government officials and the Utah Substance Abuse Advisory Council to address the crowd.

Mary Jo McMillen, executive director of Utah Support Advocates for Recovery Awareness, helped host the event and said she was ecstatic about the support House Bill 348 has received. The bill would amend issues surrounding substance abuse and mental health treatment while giving recovery resources to people in the criminal justice system.

“[I’m] so glad that we are supported by our government. They are really trying to make change,” McMillen said.

McMillen said she hopes to see shifts in the accessibility and improvement of Medicaid and insurance plans to cover physical and mental health. She hopes to reform criminal justice by collaborating with community members, government agencies, corrections officers and law enforcement.

“Once we get the bill passed, then we have to invest in the action to make the change happen,” she said.

Representative Eric Hutchings addressed the crowd and said their support was why the bill has been well-received.

“The only reason that this is working is because you guys proved that if we give you a chance and give you the resources, we can change lives,” Hutchings said.

Arielle Spanvill, a master’s student in social work at the U and long term recovery patient, also attended the event. Spanvill’s fight with substance abuse began at age 12. She started drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana and then became addicted to heroin, cocaine and other hard drugs. Spanvill’s story brought her to Washington D.C. where she met President Obama and other women in long term recovery.

“What’s cool about sobriety is you never know where it’s going to take you,” Spanvill said. “Thanks to heroin, I got to go to the White House, and who gets to say that?”

Spanvill believes the biggest obstacles to overcome are the stigmas surrounding mental health and substance abuse disorder.

“We picture a drunk under a bridge or a heroin addict shot out somewhere,” she said. “As I looked around here today, I didn’t see that. I see normal people.”

Barbara Mckenney attended the rally to show her support of providing resources for substance abuse patients. She lost a son to drugs last August and is in a continual battle with her other son on his path to recovery.

“I am here to make sure that others have what they need,” Mckenney said. “Like people who have surgery and have to go to rehab to get healthy, so is drug recovery.”

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