Shatterproof: A Call to Transform Addiction Treatment and End the Stigma

Right now, there are 49 million Americans living with a substance use disorder (SUD) in the United States.

More than 112,000 people died from a drug overdose in the 12-month period ending in May 2023, according to new estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Health Statistics. That’s an increase of more than 2,700 from the previous year.

Despite these stark numbers, we continue to see a huge gap in life-saving investments in addiction treatment centers.

Addiction costs our country $532 billion a year, and those costs are rising. What most people don’t realize is that it costs far more to leave addiction alone than it does to treat it.

My older son, Brian, became addicted to alcohol and drugs in high school. Like many parents, we had no idea what type of treatment program would be appropriate for him and what level of care (or type of care) he needed. Inpatient or outpatient? Mental health counseling? Medications?

We also didn’t know if the treatment programs we were considering followed evidence-based or sciencedbacked protocols. We were lost. We did our best as a family to support him, and my son did his best to recover from his SUD. He went to 8 different programs in as many years. 

Tragically, as hard as my son tried, I got the call in the middle of the night in October 2011 that my son had died. He was 25 years old.  

He had not used a substance in 13 months, but he was still plagued by shame; he felt like an outcast. The stigma of addiction had affected him deeply and made it difficult for him to connect with others. And it can be very hard to escape the mental prison of addiction without support and community — even when you’re abstinent.

When he woke up that morning, he researched suicide notes, lit a candle, and took his own life.

After Brian’s death, I took some time to travel the country and learn more about the disease of addiction. What I learned was heart-wrenching: research existed that could have saved my son’s life and literally millions of others

There was irrefutable evidence about ways to mitigate the impact of the disease and improve outcomes for people in treatment. The approaches I found were comparable to medical treatment for any other chronic illness, like diabetes, heart disease or asthma.

But all this research was buried deep in medical journals. And as far as I could tell, it wasn’t being widely implemented. 

So, I started Shatterproof.

I formed this national nonprofit organization 10 years ago with the goal of preventing addiction from shattering other families. Shatterproof approaches SUD as a medical condition whose treatment should be shaped by science and based in evidence.  

Our first major initiative was to lead a transformation across the country around treatment systems by bringing this critical information out of the medical journals and into the public’s collective reach.  

That led to the creation of Shatterproof Treatment Atlas.

Treatment Atlas is our nation’s first quality measurement system for treating addiction. After 3 years in development, and with funding support from various states and health insurers, we were able to launch it in 2020.  

Treatment Atlas is a leading resource in the U.S. for information on circumstance-specific addiction treatment and is unique in its offerings. Not only does it allow people to search by location and payment option, it also allows people to compare facilities based on the extent to which the facilities align with best practices in SUD care. By answering a few simple and confidential questions from the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), a person can identify what type of treatment they or their loved ones might need and what ancillary services could be useful based on their circumstances. Then, they can locate providers that follow evidence-based practices and make informed decisions about what best meets the needs of that individual.

In just 3 years, the reach of Treatment Atlas has widened to 14 states, representing 45% of the U.S. population. To date, the platform has had more than 1 million visits.

Treatment Atlas is a free tool that lets people search a comprehensive list of reputable addiction treatment providers by state and level of care. Treatment Atlas also displays transparent information that outlines facility offerings. Most importantly, people who have received treatment can leave a review. Those reviews are displayed on Treatment Atlas to provide additional information from peers who are trying to decide where to go for care.

By ensuring our loved ones have access to lifesaving resources like Treatment Atlas, we can change how our communities support and treat people impacted by substance use disordersone family at a time.

To learn more, visit and donate to to ensure people with substance use disorders and those that care about them have access to life-saving information that is free and easy to find. 

Gary Mendell

Gary Mendell is the founder and CEO of Shatterproof, a national nonprofit focused on reversing the course of the addiction crisis in America. After losing his son Brian in 2011, Gary founded Shatterproof a year later to spare other families from the tragedy his had suffered.

Mendell has created solutions to ensure that a substance use disorder is prevented and treated for generations to come, including providing support for people in recovery and removing the shame and stigma associated with the disease of addiction.

He has testified in front of the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis and the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance on Treating Substance Misuse in America. He has appeared on CNBC and MSNBC as well as been featured in Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. Mendell is an advisory member of the National Quality Forum's Technical Expert Panel for Opioid and Opioid Use Disorder and The Opioid Policy Research Collaborative at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University.

Mendell received his B.S. from the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration and his MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.