Sioux Falls businessman Kevin Kirby is one of the co-founders of Face It Together. He faced his own addiction several years ago and says not only did the disease control his life, it nearly ruined it.
"I was scared to death to even think I might have a problem with drugs or alcohol, because I know how powerful and damaging those labels are we attach to the people who get those diseases," Kirby said.
Kirby says he never knew he had a chronic alcohol problem because he didn't know the meaning of those words. Like so many people, Kirby's drinking problem started slowly and steadily got worse.
"This disease is shrouded in silence and darkness and ignorance. We don't talk about it. It's not part of the public dialogue. So my life was falling apart," Kirby said.
While in his mid-to-late 40's Kirby began suffering from depression and anxiety and the only way he knew how to ease that pain was to drink. Like so many others, Kirby says he didn't want his friends and business associates to find out because of the stigma attached to someone with a drinking problem. But he knew he needed help.
Don Jorgensen: Kevin when did you know it was time to get help?
Kirby: I said maybe I'll try one of those alcohol treatment places. The day I showed up, I knew that's exactly where I belonged.
Besides his own recovery, Kirby began helping others who suffered from the same disease. After heading up several transitional homes in Sioux Falls for people going through similar struggles, Kirby quickly discovered, this problem was bigger than he ever realized.
Jorgensen: How big of a problem is addiction in our community?
Kirby: If the people in this community became aware of the scope of this problem in this community and surmountable barriers keeping people away from getting help, we would put our arms around this problem, which is our number one public health issue, we would solve it.
Kirby says ten percent of the people in Sioux Falls have some sort of substance addiction. And chances are you know them and you don't know they have a problem.
"Another frightening statistic is 90 percent of those people who suffer from this disease don't get the help they need in any given year. That's a lot of sick people," Kirby said.
Kirby says something was broken with the system. That's why he helped found Face It Together, a non-profit organization that's funded by private donations and the United Way Foundation.
Face It Together offers free, confidential support and services, not only to those recovering from alcohol and drug problems, but also to community leaders and businesses. By partnering with several employers in the area, the program currently is reaching more than one-third of Sioux Falls' workforce helping save families and lives.
"Most everybody knows somebody who has suffered from addiction during their lives and the experiences are not good," Kirby said.
But Kirby wants to turn those terrible experiences into something positive. He says it's going to take the entire community to open up about addictions and recognize they are chronic diseases that are treatable.
"Because we don't talk about this disease, we are so scared to death of these awful labels and words and stigma, most of us don't do anything about it 'til we've already lost an awful lot," Kirby said.
Those 90 percent he referred to who don't seek treatment, he calls the "yets."
"As long as you don't treat this disease, you haven't lost something yet, but you will," Kirby said.
That's why he wants the entire region to recognize substance addictions as chronic diseases, just like cancer and diabetes, all treatable if the community comes together and faces it together.
Face It Together is working to not only change perceptions, by getting people to look at addiction as a disease, but by helping people find help.
You can do that with a phone call to 605-274-2262, by going to the Face It Together website or by stopping by the Sioux Falls office at the corner of 26th Street and Western Avenue. From there, Face It Together can help you find a path to recovery that will work for you.