The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease


The country is waking up.

I see it in my colleagues, my friends, and my family. I see newly inspired activists doing their best to understand and navigate byzantine systems of government, and it gives me hope. And when it comes to addiction or substance use disorder, advocacy is particularly important. Historically, there have been few effective advocates for this marginalized and misunderstood disease.

To understand the importance of advocacy, you need to remember that elected officials react to input from their constituents, especially those who are personally impacted by policies. If you don’t believe that, then believe this: when legislators hear nothing on a given subject, they assume people just don’t care.

Why is speaking out on substance use issues particularly impactful?

  • Legislators rarely receive feedback on substance use issues, so when they do hear from constituents, it’s significant.
  • An uneducated legislator is likely to make an uninformed decision. One example is being “tough on crime.” Because addiction and crime overlap, many legislators  fall into the rote position of voting for additional ineffective punitive measures, instead of innovative initiatives which might improve individual or community health.
  • Politics works like everything else: The squeaky wheel gets the grease. When legislators hear from a number of their constituents on a particular issue, they pay attention.

Advocacy is simple and rewarding. Websites like and provide contact information for your local, state, and federal representatives. E-mail, call, and/or write letters–any or all are great ways to make contact. Remember to be specific, and include how a policy change or proposal will impact you personally.

We need help and that means we need your help. People advocate for all types of healthcare but much, much less so when it comes to addiction, substance use disorder, and especially substance use prevention. Use your voice, and do so at each and every level of government, from the city council all the way up to the Presidency. You could make much more of a difference than you might think.

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