Aided By the Kochs and Krafts, Private Citizens Take On America's Opioid Crisis

A street scene from the neighborhood where the10-year-old boy, that died of a fentanyl overdose last month in Miami, Fla., lived.(AP Photo/Mario Houben)

Every day, an estimated 115 people in America die because of opioids. More than 42,000 opioid-related deaths occurred in 2016 alone, according to Health and Human Services. It is evident that a crisis is taking place across America. And now, private citizens are taking matters into their own hands.

In June, The Daily Beast covered the Phoenix, gyms that double as a recovery organization. The Phoenix was founded by recovering addict Scott Strode and partially funded by a Koch brothers program.

According to The Daily Beast, Strode has opened gym facilities in 10 different states, in an effort to provide addicts not only with the opportunity to build their self-esteem but also with an alternative to the bars or the streets. In addition, the gym gives recovering drug users a community that supports and encourages them.

Strode explained the benefits of the gym and its effectiveness to the Boston Globe in 2015: “You work at it, you pant, you labor, and you get a lot of encouragement,” he said. “And when you get to the top there is a sense of accomplishment.”

His gyms have so far served 26,000 people over 12 years. He says the relapse rate for Phoenix attendees is 23%, which is significantly lower than the national average of 40-60% for conventional treatment organizations.

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that this year the Phoenix will receive between $2-3 million from the Koch program Stand Together.

According to The Daily Beast, the Phoenix is just one of 86 community organizations that Stand Together has partnered with in fewer than three years of existence.

Stand Together was specifically designed to work with community organizations and leaders; the program’s mission is to encourage people to improve their communities themselves. Stand Together supports these efforts by providing the training, resources, tools, and funds.

This means that communities don’t have to wait or depend on federal agencies or even state governments. They are empowered to act as they see fit and to tackle the areas that they recognize as a problem for their communities.

“I’m a big believer of also that sort of what’s coming out of D.C. even over the last ten years, really fifteen years, twenty years, isn’t really getting at the root of this issue,” Strode told The Daily Beast. “We have overdose reversal drugs, we have more treatment beds, we keep adding that stuff and the crisis continues to get worse.”

And Strode isn’t the only private citizen working to reduce the use of opioids.

Boston physicians use a mobile van (called “CareZone“) to travel directly to vulnerable communities in order to treat users and discuss recovery options. The program is currently in its pilot period and is a collaboration between the Boston Healthcare Program for the Homeless and the Kraft Center for Community Health at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Like Phoenix and Stand Together, the Boston CareZone program is made possible by private citizens — in this instance, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and the Kraft family foundation.

America’s opioid crisis does not receive nearly as much attention as it should. Fortunately, there are individuals like Scott Strode, Charles Koch, David Koch, and Robert Kraft — as well as many more throughout the country — who are attempting to address it.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent those of any other individual or entity. Follow Sarah on Twitter: @sarahmquinlan.