Addiction’s Collateral Damage

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 14: Guests joined President Bill Clinton and Kobe Bryant at the grand opening of STEP UP ON VINE on January 14, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Global Philanthropy Group)
LOS ANGELES, CA – JANUARY 14: Bernadine Fried joined President Bill Clinton and Kobe Bryant at the grand opening of STEP UP ON VINE on January 14, 2013, in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Global Philanthropy Group)

The 12 Angels Evergreen Fund, a 501c3 nonprofit charity, uses the tools of community economic development such as mentorship, micro-lending, grants and low-interest loans to support organizations that prevent and treat addictive disorders.

Addiction and other mental health disorders cause two types of damage. The first type of injury is to the individuals that addictively use drugs and alcohol. Another hardship is the “collateral damage” caused by addiction. Collateral damage is a general term for deaths, injuries, or other damage inflicted on an unintended target.

Many people who are addicted believe that they are only harming themselves. Any friend or family member of an addict would certainly disagree with this statement. Emergency room doctors treat approximately five million drug-related visits a year according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The National Coalition for the homeless estimate that 64% abuse alcohol, drugs or both. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse published a report in 2010 stating that approximately 65% of inmates meet the criteria for substance dependence.

Instead of going on describing more examples of the collateral damage caused by addiction, maybe we can summarize with $700 Billion of total economic damage caused by addiction in the US on an annual basis. How big is $700 Billion? We’ve heard much this election season how China and other countries are taking jobs and opportunities from the US. The US trade deficit with China in 2015 was roughly $365 billion.

As Albert Einstein said, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” The 12 Angels with your help and support find the opportunities to make a difference for individuals, their family and friends, and our society that is suffering the consequences caused by addiction and other mental health disorders. Join us.

The Human Accelerator

Rendered concept of a Human Capital Diagram

We’ve all watched the explosion of venture capital, angel investing and rapid scaling of businesses over the last few decades. The epicenter of innovation occurred in Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley developed a Gold Rush persona that attracted individuals from all over the world. Over the decades. Silicon Valley became known for having the formula to turn an idea into billion dollar company, seemingly overnight.

Personally, I’ve been out of the excitement and opportunity of being an entrepreneur for the last few years entangled with five lawsuits after my second drug and alcohol treatment center exploded, publicly. Thankfully, all my lawsuits are over; I have left the courtroom and returned to the land of entrepreneurial opportunity. One characteristic of being a successful entrepreneur is the ability to find opportunities in the middle of difficulties. One of the first steps an entrepreneur does is take inventory, internally and externally.

After I left my private screening of LA Law and began looking around, I noticed an increase in business accelerators (incubators) around Los Angeles. Twenty-five years ago as a young entrepreneur, it was evident that having a fertile and nurturing environment to launch my company would be immensely helpful. Back then at the entrepreneurial water cooler, we all used to talk about business incubators (accelerators), but they were few and far between. Today, it seems that the “accelerator” has arrived. FYI it appears the “PC” word for helping a business find its path to success is “accelerator,” and not “incubator.” Whatever the correct term, I’m grateful to have them.

At 54, broke, my last two companies killed, the added fun of having a bunch of rumors floating around the Internet; I’m pounding the streets, with my devoted business plan in hand, attempting to find the opportunity in the middle of difficulty. I’m an entrepreneur, not a scientist, researcher, or historian. Many times, my next big idea originates in something that I want that I can’t find or isn’t there.

I started to think about “business accelerators” and Silicon Valley. What typically happens is an entrepreneur sends their business plan (“idea”) to an accelerator, angel investor or VC. The idea sparks an interest from the accelerator, angel investor or VC and the entrepreneur, after being vetted, gets invited into the inner sanctum of venture opportunity.

As a 54-year-old, I’m not the “young” tech entrepreneur. I’m starting over after two public business failures. I had a reputational scandal fueled by a gossip columnist. I’m living with financial wreckage caused by the failed companies and the years of litigation. I haven’t been in the entrepreneurial game in over a three-year period. This morning when I looked in the mirror, I didn’t see a “business beauty queen” looking back.

So I started to fantasize about meeting my business fairy godmother that would turn my pumpkin into a carriage, and I’d once more get the invitation to the entrepreneur’s ball held each year at Andreessen Horowitz, Sequoia Capital, and Accel’s holiday parties.

OK, I won’t hold my breath for my business fairy godmother. However, just like I instinctively knew that there was a formula to take an idea, refine it, test it, grow it, scale it, and sell it, which evolved into the business accelerator. What if we built a factory for turning out fairy godmothers, or more realistically, we create a system of accelerating human potential. We apply the same methodology that helped create a “business” accelerator” and we build the “human accelerator.”

One of the features of technology that Venture Capital firms love is scalability. Technology that catches on spreads quickly and inexpensively. What about human potential? Is it scalable? Is it inexpensive? My answer to both questions is yes.

I just finished reading a book by Google’s Laszlo Bock called “Work Rules.” In it, Mr. Bock describes the evolution of Google’s People Operations. While I was reading it, I wondered if we could use Google’s People Operations’ system of identifying and developing human talent outside of Google?

Here are a few highlights from Work Rules:

Create a mission
Be transparent
Give people a voice
Find what the best people are doing and replicate it
Use technology
Today, I’m on the entrepreneurial sidelines. I haven’t been invited to the VC ball this year. I haven’t found or don’t know where to look for the human accelerators in my community. If someone knows of one, please let me know.

I’ve ridden the rollercoaster of success and failure. Financially, I’ve had nothing and more than I need. With or without the human accelerator, I’ll be OK. But will I be able to maximize my human potential without the human accelerator?

If I need it, would it help other people? I’m going to ask my fairy godmother to build a billion human accelerators to give others the opportunity of tapping into their human potential. My hope is that by the time I’m 74, I look around and see all the human accelerators helping people all over find passion, productivity, and purpose.

Making an Investment in Recovery

My first year of recovery appeared to most people in the outside world as me sitting around a rehab, going to meetings and not making any “progress.” Looking from the outside in, through the eyes of a “normal” person, getting clean looks like sitting around, drinking coffee and not doing much else.   From the inside, it feels like a daily battle, literally “a battle with yourself.”  My thoughts and feelings were on a roller coaster for that first year.  The outside world did not understand the transformation or the characteristics of early recovery.   How do “normal” people judge success?  How much do you make?  Where do you live?  What clothes are you wearing? Where do you work?   Where did you go to school?

Here is how I would answer those questions while I was in rehab.

How much do you make?

I don’t make any money; I’m unemployed.  In fact, I can’t get a bank account.  The bank banned me.  Before I got to rehab, I made a deposit at the atm without placing a check or cash into the atm, and then I took the money out. Back in the 1980’s, this scam was very common.  Today, banks won’t let that happen.

Where do you live?

I live in a rehab in Pasadena, CA, with 150 others.   I share a pay phone and sleep in a bunk bed, I take a shower down the hall and sign the door.  Why do I sign the door, the rehab wants to know I take showers everyday.  🙂

What clothes are you wearing?    My clothes are from the donation pile at the rehab.   Residents that leave the rehab in a hurry don’t bother taking their clothes.  If the resident doesn’t claim them, they end up in the clothes pile for us to take.

Where do you work?  I work at odd jobs around the rehab.  Sometimes I wash dishes, cook, clean bathrooms or sweep leaves in the courtyard.  There is a joke that we learn to sweep imaginary leaves because you’re required to keep sweeping until the supervisor tells you to stop, even if the courtyard is perfectly clean.

Where did you go to school? I went to UCLA but never graduated.  I looked at UCLA as a way to get student loans.  I used the loans to buy drugs to sell.  The goal was to sell enough to use as much and as often as I wanted.   You’d think if I was an entrepreneur I’d be a good drug dealer, nope.  I couldn’t stop using long enough to sell.  The empire crumbled.  In the end, I had a habit and debt.

Cut to 54, I’m not Bill Gates, but I am a productive member of society.  I started three technology companies, two rehabs and a nonprofit.  The question is – how many addicts with the right kind of support could generate a positive return on investment for the people willing to invest in them?  People will say not every addict is an entrepreneur, I agree.

Yes, Bill Gates and I both dropped out of college.  Outside of that similarity, I don’t think Bill was sweeping imaginary leaves at 27.  I’d guess most VC’s I’d call would have their assistant take a message.  If I read this blog, and I was a traditional Angel Investor or VC, I’d laugh.  Then after the laugh, I’d ask myself why not?  As Albert Einstein says “in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”

How about this for a theory – the same way Silicon Valley became a Mecca for technology, income, jobs etc.  What could a great business like Facebook or Google do for a rehab?   Does opportunity breed hope” Can hope fuel recovery”

It sounds a little crazy to look at rehab as fertile ground for entrepreneurship, but I have been lucky enough to spend two quality years in rehab.  That gave me enough time to see the possibilities.  If you doubt this – take a look at the Salvation Army and Delancey Street.  They have been doing it for years.  What we need now is an entrepreneur, a business plan, a few great mentors, a couple of Angel investors and one VC.  You know where to reach me!

 

Addict, Entrepreneur or Both?

On May 3rd, 2004, I walked into a rehab at 42 years of age.  Being an addict/recovering addict is a wild ride that is difficult to understand for almost everyone, including me.  As a personal problem, it hijacked my life on many occasions.  As a societal problem, it demands more resources on a yearly basis than the Iraq War. I can’t tell whether I was an addict or an entrepreneur first.  Peter Drucker says, “The entrepreneur is willing to put his or her career and financial security on the line and take risks in the name of an idea.”  With just a small tweak Peter Drucker’s statement could describe an addict, here is a small rewrite, the addict is willing to put his financial security and life on the line and take risks in the name of a substance.

In my 20’s, the first time I got clean, I risked my Mommy’s $5,000 loan to begin my first technology business Computer Physicians.  Over a few years, Computer Physicians’ success turned me into a Yuppie.  By 1994, I was bored.  I felt I enslaved by my own business.  I needed out.  I took a sabbatical and went sailing for about six months.  This impulsive move was disruptive to the business, my partner Marc, my relationship with Berni and my recovery.

I tried to start a couple of other technology companies hoping that I’d be happy.  The next nine years I got further and further from happiness.  I kept thinking that money, success or building a company would do it for me.  Nope.  It didn’t fix me.  Eventually in 2001, I relapsed.  In another blog, I’ll talk more about that.  In May of 2004, I stumbled or crumbled into rehab.

My life took a monumental step forward 11 years ago the day I saw the parallel between being an entrepreneur and an addict.  It hit me like a tsunami.  Luckily I had an internet connection and a computer in rehab.  I imagined using entrepreneurship to help alleviate the damage addiction does to the individual and society.  That thought organized my life.  In my soul, I knew I was an entrepreneur and an addict.  Combining both gave me purpose.  Soon on I was studying the missions and approach of the Skoll Foundation, Pacific Community Ventures, Investors’ Circle and other sites that opened my imagination and inspiration to social entrepreneurship.

It has always been easy for me to borrow and deploy.  This time, I borrowed from Muhammad Yunus, Investors Circle, Pacific Community Ventures, mixed them all up and started the 12 Angels.  The 12 Angels’ mission is to provide the investment capital, consultation and mentorship to support sustainable businesses that help alleviate the individual and societal destruction caused by addiction and mental health disorders.  Businesses we support vary from healthcare service and biotech to companies that create jobs for recovering addicts, giving them a chance to enjoy productive and healthy lives.

We are going to be launching 12 Angels version 3 in June of 2016, from scratch.  If you are interested in helping build version 3, send me an email at alex@12angels.org.  Stay Tuned!

The Real Costs of Unemployment on our Community

It takes a little digging to figure out the “true” rates of unemployment in the US.  The unemployment figures you hear reported in the media are somewhat misleading.  At the time of this blog, the current unemployment rates reported are approximately 5.5% or about 8.5 million people are unemployed (March 2015) .

However, if you want to know the “true” unemployment rates they are significantly higher.  Depending on how you categorize people without jobs the range is anywhere from 25 million to 90 million in the United States.  This blog is not to intended to teach anyone about statistics but to examine how unemployment affects the people in our recovery community.

I know I said I was not going to get into statistics but I do have one statistic that may be of interest to our community…Out of the 10 million people who are categorized as severely mentally ill 8 million are unemployed.  With a little math that equates to 80% unemployment.  That is correct 80% unemployment.  The economic cost of providing 8 million people with disability or other forms of government support comes in at $250 billion a year.  This is a very, very, very large cost to our economy.

It is important not to let statistics and economics overshadow the human experience of unemployment.  In an article on the effects of unemployment on people’s mental health,  author Rebecca J. Rosen of The Atlantic writes “Those who have been looking for work for half a year or more are more than three times as likely to be suffering from depression as those with jobs.”  Mary Giliberti, executive director of National Alliance on Mental Illness states “People with mental illness who find competitive jobs have higher quality of life, fewer symptoms and lower mental health care costs”

It is clear that unemployment compounds the problems associated with mental illness.  So where are the solutions?

In a July 10, 2014 article in USA Today titled “Bleak Picture for mentally ill: 80% are jobless” says one of the answers exits in “supportive employment”.  Supported employment is a well-defined approach to helping people find meaningful jobs and providing ongoing support from a team of mental health professionals.  Since the 1980’s studies on supported employment demonstrate enormous benefits in helping individuals become healthier and more productive.  Access to supported employment continues to be a problem, despite extensive evidence showing its effectiveness.

It is my hope that any well-heeled entrepreneurs looking for a challenge join me in developing more supportive employment opportunities for the recovery community.  What an amazing opportunity to help someone find productivity, purpose and passion in their recovery.

 

Solutions to the Economic Damage Caused by Addiction

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As of May of 2013, our unemployment rate is at 7.6% equating to 11.8 million people on unemployment.  

Everything being equal would an employer hire a recovering addict? If you were an addict just leaving rehab would you disclose this on a job interview?  How do you explain on an interview that you have spent the last 30, 60, 90 days or longer in rehab?  Can you imagine?  “Awkward!”  My assumption is that most people keep their stay in rehab their little secret.

In 1988, when I was coming out of my 6 month stay in rehab…as they say some are sicker than others 🙂  I chose to create an elaborate story about my whereabouts for the last 6 months.  I said to Gary, the very nice, very sophisticated, very well dressed property manager who was part of a conservative real estate company in Glendale, CA, that I had been traveling in Europe for 6 months.  If I was going to use the traveling through Europe alibi on my job interview I should have prepared better.  Gary loved Europe, of course! When the conversation turned to Paris I really got myself into trouble.  Gary knew about the different neighborhoods, little restaurants and some of the best places to stay.  Me, I had never been to Paris or Europe.  I was scrambling.  I knew one street in Paris, the Champs-Elysées.  So that became the center of my story.   Then I as quickly as possible changed the subject.

The next uncomfortable moment came when Gary called the rehab I was so embarrassed.  In 1988, before cell phones were common, our rehab had a pay phone.  My rehab was not one of those fancy places in Malibu, my rehab had a 150 residents who made the choice of going to rehab instead of prison.  Usually it was impossible to get through on the pay phone, Gary got lucky.  I heard my name being called down the hall “hey Alex come to the pay phone”.  When I picked up the phone I was caught by surprise, it was Gary.     I never expected he’d call.  Of course his first question was, where do you live?  I had to think fast, keeping with my fabricated persona of the traveling student, I said I was staying in a youth hostel.  Luckily years of drug use gave me the ability to think fast and convincingly lie.  At times I could not tell when I was telling the truth or when I was lying.  I got the job.  If I told you of my adventures with my first job out of rehab you’d laugh.  But I’ll save those stories for another blog.  The short story is I made it out of rehab.  It was tough.  Many of my friends and acquaintances at the rehab were not so lucky.  They really struggled.  I watched a parade of my friends and acquaintances relapse and die.  My theory is that the disappointment and stress of trying to find work seemed to escalate the frequency of relapse.  It looked to me when faced with returning to “life” or “using”, using looked like the better option. For the lucky ones they ended back in rehab, for the unluckier ones they ended up in jail or dead.

Whether the root of the problem for addicts is learned dependency or the very slow healing of the addict’s brain, I’m not sure it matters.  Our economy is being damaged by unemployed addicts.  I don’t mean to ignore the personal tragedy of people dying or going to jail but this is a business blog.  We business people try not to consider the human condition when we are talking about the economy. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, we have 22.5 million Americans aged 12 or older—or 8.7 percent of the population — had used an illicit drug or abused a psychotherapeutic medication (such as a pain reliever, stimulant, or tranquilizer) in the past month. http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/nationwide-trends

So we have 11.8 million people on unemployment and we have 22.5 million using people in the United States.  What can we say is happening to the US economy by not addressing the problems of addiction and work?  How about this number…$366 BILLION caused by alcohol and Illicit drug use in health care, productivity loss, crime, incarceration and drug enforcement.  Ok so that is enough about the problem let’s talk about solutions…

One of the keys to our economic recovery is getting people clean and sober. Is that enough? We need to take it one step further and provide a bridge back to productivity. This is the focus of the 12 Angels. Here are some solutions to increasing productivity:

1. More agency owned businesses – these businesses can operate inside of long term government funded treatment centers. Some organizations like Delancey Street and the Salvation Army have been doing this for decades. One of our goals with the 12 Angels is to help other treatment centers that do not operate businesses start profitable and with sustainable companies. If you are reading this and are a cashed out entrepreneur, foundation or philanthropist – we need your help!

2. More micro-lending and micro-credit available to recovering addict entrepreneurs. The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank for their success in creating economic opportunity to the poor. Why can’t we apply micro-lending and micro-credit to recovering addict entrepreneurs?

3. Why can’t we use models such as the ones developed by Pacific Community Ventures? Pacific Community Ventures uses tools of private equity to stimulate job creation, productivity and wealth in economically disadvantaged communities.

Practicing addicts and alcoholics cost our nation over $340 billion annually. Addiction is the largest health care problem in the nation. Using the 3 models described above coupled with the specific knowledge and experience of the 12 Angels’ organization is a winning combination.

We have an incredible opportunity to help everyone in our nation by reducing the damage addiction costs our society. Addiction is treatable. Economic recovery is possible. The return on investment is gigantic. Act now, help the 12 Angels implement our social entrepreneurship programs in the recovery community.

You can contribute via PayPal by using the button in the right most sidebar or donate your time and expertise by contacting us at 877-858-1212 or via email.

Award-winning play “Bill W. and Dr. Bob” Return to Off-Broadway

 

In 2011 – the 12 Angels Fund was thrilled to announce its support of the production company of the Off-Broadway play of BILL W. AND DR. BOB.(www.billwanddrbob.com).

Well-known actors Martin Sheen and Hank Azaria supported the play with performances of staged readings, including at a fundraiser in Los Angeles in November 2011 supported by 12 Angels – raising over ten thousand dollars.

12 Angels was not the only non-profit supporting and investing in the company – The Hazelden Foundation has now become the major sponsor and non-profit umbrella for the play. Now – Alcoholics Anonymous Play Bill W. and Dr. Bob to Return Off-Broadway (http://tinyurl.com/k3arsbt) this July!

An ecstatic Stephen Bergman wrote this update:  “Dear Alex, (Shohet) Hope you are well.  We’re in rehearsal now, for first preview July 8 and opening July 16.  Because of your Kickstarter donation, you have two free tix awaiting you!  I hope you can make it! Gratitude! Your old friend, Steve”

Friends come but rarely go in recovery.

Updated links: www.BillWandDrBob.com

 www.samuelshem.com

12 Angels engages to support the relaunch of award-winning play “Bill W. and Dr. Bob”

Bill W. and Dr. BobThe 12 Angels Fund is thrilled to announce its support of the production company of the Off-Broadway play “BILL W. AND DR. BOB”  (www.billwanddrbob.com).

Well-known actors Martin Sheen and Hank Azaria have supported the play with performances of staged readings, including at a recent fundraiser in Los Angeles in November 2011 supported by 12 Angels.

See pictures from the fundraiser – https://picasaweb.google.com/115617164588577667756/BillAndBobAtONE80?authkey=Gv1sRgCPKO-a2up6qILA

The production had a successful run in 2007 in New York, followed by similar successes in almost a hundred other U.S. cities and abroad. This track record has motivated 12 Angels to support and work to invest in the production company.

12 Angels is not the only non-profit supporting and investing in the company – The Hazelden Foundation has agreed to become the major sponsor and non-profit umbrella for the play, and has already invested in the company.

12 Angels has agreed to strategically support the play and invest at least $250,000 in the company. 12 Angels now is working to raise the capital to launch the play in September 2012.

With a successful fundraising, this will mark the first investment from the inaugural fund. Through a network of investors and contacts within the addiction community, 12 Angels’ goal is to invest in this production that will employ a number of recovering addicts, as per the fund’s mission, and which will be self-sustaining. The revenues from the non-profit New York production will be used to launch a national college campus tour and program to bring awareness of addiction in college life, and particularly the current deadly epidemic of binge drinking (2000 students die every year), and to provide solutions to address it.

Support this sustainable production of BILL W. AND DR. BOB through a donation to The 12 Angels Fund. Your donation will have a direct impact on increasing the awareness of the recovery community and education program. Help in bringing this wonderful play back to life to be able to touch the many people that are impacted by addiction.

About the Play: BILL W. AND DR. BOB is an award-winning Off-Broadway hit play about the relationship between the two men that led to the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous and their wives, Lois and Anne, whose relationship led to the founding of Al Anon Family Groups. Written by Samuel Shem (pen-name of Stephen Bergman) and Janet Surrey, this play is historically-accurate, deeply-moving, laugh-out-loud funny and inspiring, and captures the power of a great American success story.

The 12 Angels Fund – Launching Spring 2012

After years of building on the 12 Angels concept of encouraging social entrepreneurship within the addiction recovery community, The 12 Angels Fund will be launched in spring 2012 to take it even further.

The 12 Angels Fund will invest in social enterprises that employ and develop individuals recovering from addiction. Our mission is to provide the capital and mentorship to create sustainable businesses that help guide recovering addicts back into productive and healthy lives.

 Every year, over $600 billion is spent or loss on the overall costs of substance abuse, including productivity and health and crime-related costs. But addiction is treatable, economic recovery is possible, and the potential return on investment is massive. Our hope is to provide a second chance to recovering addicts and break the cycle of dependence onf family, friends and the community.
The 12 Angels Fund will invest in profitable sustainable companies and demand not a traditional financial return on investment, but a significant social return through the employment of recovering addicts. Using our expertise in funds management and venture capital, we will foster successful companies and, as a result, healthy employees.
We are currently in the build phase of the organization and fund and are seeking socially conscious donors to join us in realizing our vision for a powerful vehicle to mobilize capital and drive social change.
Stay tuned for updates!