With drug use — and addiction recovery — in the spotlight of this year’s mayoral race, experts weigh in on how it might hamper or help overall public health.
Public vilification of an Oklahoma City councilman’s past drug use, treatment and recovery is likely to restrict the number of people willing to seek elected office, a mental health expert said.
Randy Tate, executive director of NorthCare, Inc., a nonprofit agency that aids in substance abuse recovery, believes the recent battle to unseal Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid’s divorce records will have harsh, long-term consequences.
“There are a lot of people who are in recovery, and sure, they may have done some hurtful things before they went to treatment, but does that mean they shouldn’t be able to seek public office?” he asked. “We could potentially lose good, qualified candidates who might fear their past is being looked at. We need more people in the public eye who have gone through treatment and who can serve as role models, people who have had an addiction but are now living a life of recovery.”
Shadid, a mayoral candidate opposing three-term incumbent Mick Cornett, has been the focus of media scrutiny after the state’s largest newspaper, The Oklahoman, went to court to open his sealed divorce file. Oklahoma County Special Judge Lisa K. Hammond ordered the records unsealed Dec. 20. The file had been sealed since June 2007.
Hammond said in a hearing that she released the records because Shadid is a candidate for mayor. In 2007, she agreed with Shadid and his ex-wife to seal the file to protect their three children who are now ages 9, 10 and 12.
Open records experts and media companies contend all public records, including divorces, should be available to citizens regardless of the harm or impact their release might create.
However, Tate points out that Shadid’s case is unique.
“This was an unprecedented situation where sealed divorce records and sealed mental health records were open to the public,” Tate said.
Typically, mental health records fall under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and are not considered public documents. In this case, however, the mental health records were part of the divorce between Shadid and his ex-wife, Dina Hammam. The divorce was filed in 2004 but was not granted until three years later.
The divorce file includes information regarding Shadid’s use of marijuana and cocaine, violent outbursts and his use of pornography in lieu of marital intimacy. However, Shadid said many of the allegations in the unsealed records are false, attributing them to a bitter divorce and custody battle.
Almost six years after the divorce, Shadid and Hammam are close friends while sharing custody of the three children. During a holiday event at the Shadid for Mayor headquarters on Dec. 19, Hammam spoke publicly about her ex-husband and his political race.
“My former husband, Dr. Ed Shadid, is not the same person with almost a decade of recovery,” she told supporters. “He is a beloved father to our children.”
Successful recovery stories like Shadid’s can be an impetus to other addicts to seek substance abuse help, Tate said.
“He (Shadid) got through it, and now he’s on the city council. There are a lot of people in the middle of addiction who have zero hope,” he said. “I think a lot of people can identify with Mr. Shadid and see there is hope and there is a possibility for recovery.”
Although Shadid’s past drug use is now a topic of conversation on social media and in local coffee shops, Tate believes the public reaction will favor the councilman.
“I am not a personal friend of his or involved in his campaign, so I can honestly say I believe this makes him more real to people. They appreciate that he is honest about his past, but that’s who he is. It’s always best to be authentic,” he said.
Dr. Billy Stout, medical director at The Referral Center in OKC, said the public interest in the Shadid case might be a blessing for the recovery movement.
“He’s walked this walk, and now he’s on the other side. But it (recovery) is lifelong. There is no cure, yet the disease can be arrested. Addiction is the most serious and prevalent disease we have in the world, considering all the manifestations to the individual, families and relationships,” he said. “It’s not diabetes, it’s not breast cancer, it’s not prostate cancer. It’s addiction.”
Discussions of addiction and recovery should be part of the dialogue between elected officials at every level of government, Stout said.
“It’s getting better, but people really don’t want to talk about it.”
Cornett did not return phone calls for comment regarding this story.
According to Stout, 73 percent of the medical professionals who suffer from addiction but receive treatment and remain in long-term recovery are successful in their sobriety efforts.
“You go to the street level and it’s not even 5 percent,” he said. “The medical professionals have a reason, a motivation to get better.”