“In 2019, we formalized what had been only small group discussions and my personal sense that there was a new approach that might make a difference in America’s opioid crisis. In March, we formally launched The Sandgaard Foundation to End the Opioid Epidemic. Over the past year, together we have learned so much and have been grateful to be invited to the tables where real change is happening—and have hosted some bold conversations about breaking down barriers to collaboration and lifting the shame surrounding chronic pain, substance use disorder and recovery.
Let’s #BandTogether in 2020! Next year, we have even bigger plans to rock the opioid crisis and to crank up the volume on solutions, but before we move forward, we want to take a quick look back to honor the moments and minds that defined 2019.”
— Thomas Sandgaard, Founder
From day one, we knew the Sandgaard Foundation wanted to go big and that would mean a national mission with a momentous launch. We did an interview that ran in USA Today that broadcast our intent across the country. An excerpt: “There’s an increasing sense that a new, louder approach is necessary. Luckily, ‘loud’ is something Thomas Sandgaard, founder of The Sandgaard Foundation to End the Opioid Epidemic, knows well.” “The Foundation is exploring new ways to raise the volume on the crisis. There’s a plan to leverage their social media platforms with provocative content, and will be promoting the #BandTogether discussion during National Public Health Week. They also plan to roll out a 360-degree survey to kickstart a conversation about what’s being missed in response to the crisis.”
In May we attended a Recovery Fest fundraiser event organized by national recovery advocate, author and founder of The Voices Project Ryan Hampton, where we had the honor of meeting with Benjamin Hammond Haggerty a.k.a. Macklemore, an American rapper and songwriter from Seattle, who has released three EPs, and four albums including number one song on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. The event was a meeting of stakeholders following the inaugural staging of Recovery Fest—a drug- and alcohol-free concert that supports nonprofits working with those overcoming addiction. Macklemore headlined the first Recovery Fest held in September 2018, which brought together more than 12,000 people and raised hundreds of thousands for recovery. We are engaged in conversations and building partnerships for a possible Recovery Fest 2020 … stay tuned.
Then in July, after months of research and conversations with leading experts in fundraising and the various aspects of the opioids issue, we released a comprehensive report titled “Funding Solutions to the Opioid Crisis: An Assessment of Needs and Opportunities” identifying national blind spots in funding and key areas that align with our mission to combat the crisis: 1) reducing harm and saving lives; 2) removing the stigma of addiction; and 3) supporting long-term recovery and recovery awareness. The research included interviews with nine grant-maker groups across 13 states, 14 issue experts and nonprofits, in addition to reviews of more than 50 opioid and recovery related websites, articles and reports from various entities.
“Tighter focus, additional funding crucial to combat opioid crisis, group says” read the headline in more than 400 newspapers in communities across the country. “The Denver-based Sandgaard Foundation says the issues related to pain pills can’t be fixed overnight but, with a tighter focus and additional funding, real progress can be made.” “Thomas Sandgaard, founder of the Sandgaard Foundation, told GateHouse Media that plenty of people are engaged in finding a solution, such as pain-management alternatives that don’t involve prescription medication, but there’s still a long way to go.”
Once we had done the learning and identified the gaps along with our key areas of focus, we started the process of experimental granting to see what outcomes we could build upon. Our first grantee was the aforementioned Voices Project, for Ryan Hampton’s #MobilizeRecovery event. There we had the honor of connecting with so many on the front lines of the recovery movement, and it is not an exaggeration to say that it changed us. Our next grant was to the Opioid Crisis Response Fund, which has a mission that is simple and powerful: to save as many lives as possible, as quickly as possible, from opiate-related overdose. In its first year (which ended Sept 2019), OCRF funding prevented 1,295 overdose fatalities (3-4 per day) at an average cost of $110.84 per life-saved. That rocks!
In September, Thomas in his role as CEO of Zynex Medical and founder of The Sandgaard Foundation, decided to be the first CEO of a health and medical company in Colorado to take the Leidos CEO pledge to end opioid addiction. The pledge, which has been signed by dozens of leaders from major U.S. companies, states: “The opioid epidemic is my problem to help solve. By completing the following form, I pledge that my organization will do what it can to take action.”
On October 1, in an event space just outside of Denver, we hosted a pilot conversation we called a “Jam Session: Inside the Opioid Crisis”. It was a startlingly frank discussion of opioids in policy and in practice from those that have lived it. Thomas spoke as did Ryan Hampton—who is in recovery from opioids—and emergency room doctor Dr. Don Stader. Other notable industry leaders attending included Christy Hartsell, vice president of the Truth Initiative, Andrew Burki, chief public policy officer of The Hanley Foundation, Carrie Radant, office of advancement for the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, Jose Esquibel, associate director of the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention, and Justin Riley, executive director of Young People in Recovery.
BONUS TRACK: When we say #BandTogether, part of what we mean is to harness the volume, directness and healing power of music to tell stories that illuminate the experiences of the opioid crisis. During National Recovery Month and Pain Awareness Month in September, we kicked off a series with Highwire Daze magazine to showcase artists helping to tell the painful stories of addiction and recovery through song. We started by amplifying Melia Maccarone and her song “Sleeping Beauty” that she wrote about the dangers of opioid use. LISTEN and then tune in January 2020 as we bring you more powerful songs about pain and healing.