U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean and her son discuss substance use, recovery in Harrisburg – Pennsylvania Capital-Star

“I want our story to be other peoples’ story,” Pennsylvania Congresswoman Madeleine Dean, D-4th District, said, fighting back tears. 

Dean and her son Harry Cunnane, who struggled with substance use disorder as a teenager and young adult, joined Department of Drug and Alcohol Secretary Latisha Jones for a discussion about substance use disorder and addiction during a National Recovery Month event at the Capitol on Monday night. 

U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-4th District, and her son Harry Cunnane discuss substance use disorder and addiction during a National Recovery Month event in Harrisburg on Monday, Sept. 11, 2023 (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller).

Cunnane, who grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs, is one of three sons Dean shares with her husband Patrick. 

He’s been sober for 11 years, but Cunnane said in his childhood even as he was “surrounded by love … I always felt like there was something that I was missing.”

Pointing to daredevils like Evel Knievel, Cunnane said he sought out escape “through external things.” 

Now 32, Cunnane first turned to drinking to provide that escape, but soon found himself turning to drugs. 

As a worried parent, Dean said her son’s addiction and its impact on his well-being “scared the daylights out of me.”

“It was like the house was on fire and I was the only one who could smell it,” Dean said. 

Dean and her husband finally found out about Cunnane’s substance use when he was caught stealing money from them to purchase drugs in 2012. 

“I was battling with him, drug testing, challenging him — and finally, the good news is — the very sad good news — is, we figured it out, figured out what was going on. We confronted him,” Dean said. “It was right during Superstorm Sandy that we discovered what was going on when he stole money from us to make sure he had drugs in the event of this terrible storm. And we confronted him. And I said, Harry, I know what it is. I know it’s drugs, you are sick, you’re unwell.”

Cunnane, who Dean described as “always having an answer for everything,” had no further explanation for his parents, and agreed to go to treatment. 

Now, 11 years later, Dean and Cunnane co-authored a book — Under our Roof: A Son’s Battle for Recovery, a Mother’s Battle for Her Son — detailing Cunnane’s recovery from their perspectives. 

Dean said she learned through the process of writing the book how Cunnane felt about himself and his perceptions of others. Specifically, she learned that, as a child, he was crying himself to sleep at night because he didn’t feel like he fit in. 

“That’s so painful,” Dean said through tears.

Dean, who has served in Congress since 2019, has supported legislation to better support those with substance use disorder,  including the Homelessness and Behavioral Health Coordination Act, which would streamline support services across government agencies. 

It was like the house was on fire and I was the only one who could smell it.

– U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean.

“My son’s experience battling substance use disorder helped me better understand the importance of streamlining critical services and strengthening the network between agencies offering behavioral health services and those offering homeless services,” Dean said of the bill in February. 

Cunnane said that while the stigma associated with substance use disorder is far from gone, having public conversations and leading with compassion is “progress.” 

“It will be so incredibly important to have more people share their stories,” Cunnane said, adding that through sharing a multitude of stories, others affected by substance use disorder, and even those who are not, can begin to understand that “there’s not just one pathway.”

Cunnane is now the Vice President of Business Development for Caron Treatment Center, a multi-state substance use and addiction treatment provider, where he works to advance awareness of the programs that helped him years prior.

Dean said that watching her son’s success “doesn’t get old.”

“I am so happy for him, so happy for the people he connects with and helps,” Dean said. 

Originally published at www.penncapital-star.com,by Cassie Miller

Comments are closed.