Bridging Data and Advocacy: “Chase people, not the drug”

It was revealing to hear Roland Lamb, Deputy Commissioner at the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services (DBHIDS), speak to our class about the opioid overdose crisis directly after hearing from Devin Reaves.

The revelatory element emerges from the connection between Reaves’ social justice platform in the realm of recovery and the hard data Lamb shared that confirmed and corroborated the nature of contemporary redlining. Which is to say, Reaves taught us about the devastating results of the Jim Crow era and how isolating the poorest—and often African American—areas of a given city produces enduring social erosion. Lamb subsequently taught us the zip code 19134 is home to some the densest sectors of drug sales and addiction in the city, and yet is serviced by only two treatment facilities.

Institutional neglect is a major part of the opioid wave, as the coverage and response to the epidemic is often reactionary instead of progressive or sensitive to the efficacy of recovery programs. It’s dually stunning and understandable to hear overdose deaths have increased 53 percent between 2013 and 2015; as we’ve become accustomed to grave statistics, but remain unclear on solutions. Philadelphia, as Lamb shared, is home to some of the most potent and affordable heroin in the country.

I felt Lamb was particularly shrewd in discussing the medical system’s part in this pharmaceutically-fueled epidemic. “Chase people, not the drug,” he asserted, before delving into some Voltaire, “Doctors are men who prescribe medicines of which they know little, to cure diseases of which they know less, in human beings of whom they know nothing.”

Lamb’s presentation was intriguing in that you can sense he’s trying to make the data emote, to create and inspire a shift in the mentality around addiction and recovery. Given how fundamental data proves in supporting Solutions Journalism, it was rewarding to recognize a professional in the recovery space working towards making information more accessible.

About the author

Jim McCormick

For the past decade, Jim McCormick has worked as an analyst covering the NFL and NBA for and ESPN The Magazine. From 2009 to 2010, he served as a regular panelist for The Washington Post’s online NFL platform, The League. In addition to written content for The League, Jim conceived and produced the interview podcast series, “Behind the Helmet.” From 2011-2012, Jim was the lead high school football editor for Jim also served as an editor and co-publisher of the nationally distributed BLITZ Magazine from 2006 to 2010 in what was a broad learning experience as a media entrepreneur. Contact Jim at

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By Jim McCormick