In 2011, Gary Mendell lost his son Brian after he struggled with drug addiction for 10 years.
Brian, 25 at the time, feeling rejected and outcast by society, took his own life. The following year, Mendell stepped down from his position as CEO and chairman of HEI Hotels and Resorts, a multi-billion-dollar company that he founded, to pursue his newfound passion to help people addicted to drugs, in part, by relieving them from the shame commonly associated with addiction.
He did so by founding Shatterproof, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to "reducing the devastation that the disease of drug addiction causes families."
"The day my son died, 350 others died the same day [from drug related deaths]," Mendell said.
The statistics surrounding drug addiction and use illustrate how large this issue has become. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, drug overdose has become the leading cause of death and injury in the U.S., correlating with the spike in the prescription opioid market, which roughly entails 10 billion dollars in sales annually.
"One in 10 Americans above the age of 12 is facing addiction," Mendell said.
"For every major disease in this country there was one well-funded organization that was attacking that specific disease," Mendell said. "There wasn't anything like that for addiction."
Determined to fill the niche, Mendell founded Shatterproof. With its main focus on eliminating the negative stigma that currently is associated with addiction, the non-profit is also focused on passing legislation both at the federal and state level.
On the federal level, Mendell and his organization successfully helped pass the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, and in 11 states they advocated for the passage of legislation both requiring mandatory Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs, as well as increasing access to naloxone, a drug used to treat opioid overdose.
At present, Shatterproof is pressing for the passage of similar legislation in states most severely affected by opioid addiction, such as Missouri, Georgia, Texas, Arkansas and Connecticut.
"Every organization starts with one person, and one person certainly can't do it alone," Mendell said.
He has surrounded himself with a board of advisors from the scientific community, including Thomas McLellan, Ph.D., founder of the Treatment Research Institute and former deputy director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Strategy; and Amelia Arria, Ph.D., associate professor of the department of behavioral and community health and director of the center on youth adult health and development at University of Maryland School of Public Health.
Mendell attended USC Visions and Voices' event, Addiction in America, in January and expressed the important role younger generations will play in helping to change the current view of addiction and the need to treat it.
Shatterproof offers a variety of ways to get involved. It hosts an ambassador program, through which people with personal connections to drug addiction tell their stories and help educate others about how to seek proper treatment. For those who seek a more active and challenging way to combat drug addiction and raise money for the cause, there's the Shatterproof Challenge Rappel, where audacious participants rappel off tall urban buildings.
Shatterproof holds this challenge in various cities, and on July 19, it will be hosting the challenge in Los Angeles. Mendell hopes college students will participate in this year's Shatterproof Challenge Rappel.
"We've had high school students do it. Mostly, though, we've only had high school students do it." Mendell said. "We haven't had any teams of college students yet. I would love to have a college team."