Addiction and Recovery column
By Bob Gaydos
One of the rituals of the state Legislature is Advocacy Day, when groups from around the state descend on Albany to try to convince legislators to pass laws or allocate funds to aid the group’s particular cause. On such days, when time with legislators or their aides is at a premium, it pays to have a clear voice and a distinct mission.
But that’s not enough. On a recent trip to Albany, a new local group was told by one of the region’s legislators, “You don’t have a constituency.”
Cold, hard fact: A good cause isn’t enough to pry money or legislation out of the Legislature. You need a large enough group of citizens -- voters -- who support your cause.
For addicts, families and friends of addicts, people in the addiction treatment field, this constituency has been hard to come by. By and large, addiction (which includes alcoholism) has been looked upon as a behavioral issue or a crime issue, rather than a mental health issue. It is easy enough to get laws passed regulating the use of drugs, but extremely difficult to get laws passed and money dedicated to promoting treatment and recovery programs for those who become addicted to them.
It’s the stigma attached to the disease. Because of much of the harmful behavior associated with it -- symptoms of the disease -- addiction has until recently been treated in the shadows, something to be hidden, not talked about, cloaked in shame. Recovery, especially long-term recovery, has not even been part of the conversation. Many people not familiar with addiction don’t even know it is possible.
The group that visited Albany recently is part of a movement that is trying to change all that. It’s called Friends of Recovery Orange. There are similar groups in nearby counties and a statewide Friends of Recovery New York. They are made up of people affected by addiction in one way or another who want to give voice to the idea that recovery is real and possible and, indeed, something to be celebrated in society.
At a recent meeting, some members discussed why they decided to join the movement. Elizabeth, from Port Jervis, said, “I have a child who is an addict. It started with pain killers. There’s been jail, drugs, a vicious cycle. I believe he was denied proper treatment in the beginning because insurance wouldn’t pay for it.”
Rob, a treatment professional, said people seeking treatment are often turned down because their insurance company won’t cover the cost.
Eliminating barriers to getting help -- including not letting insurance companies decide what level of treatment is appropriate -- is one of the goals of the group.
Lisa and Joe were there for a different reason. “We lost our son to an overdose a little over a year ago,” Lisa said. “We didn’t know what to do. He died within three months of us finding out about his addiction.”
The stated mission of Friends of Recovery Orange is: “To promote a positive view of recovery from addictions and to educate communities about the effective outcomes associated with receiving appropriate information, treatment and recovery support.”
It’s basic: The more people know about addiction and recovery, the fewer young people are likely to die of it.
Another cold, hard fact: The growing constituency for supporting recovery from addiction coincides with the sharp increase in deaths due to opiods and heroin. James Conklin, director of the Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Council of Orange County, is helping the group coordinate its efforts. He says an attempt to start such a movement was made six years ago, but went nowhere.
“I think the big difference today is what’s going on with opiates and heroin,” he said. “People are outraged; more people are dying.” And, the heroin epidemic “hit new neighborhoods, new families,” he said. Suddenly, everyone’s son or daughter was possibly at risk. And suddenly, politicians are more likely to listen to calls for treating addiction as a public health issue, eliminating barriers to getting help, creating a recovery system that engages and supports people to reclaim a meaningful life -- all part of FOR-NY’s mission
Going to Albany to advocate for money or legislation to help addicts recover is not an easy task. FOR-Orange members all have different stories to explain why they are doing it: Those who have a family member in long-term recovery; friends, employers or neighbors of people in recovery; family members whose loved one has not found recovery; persons in long-term recovery; and family members whose loved ones have died as a result of their addiction. They learn how to share their stories so that people in a position to help the cause of recovery do more than just empathize or sympathize with them.
FOR-NY believes that “everyone achieves recovery in his or her own way” and that “adequate resources and support are necessary for sustained recovery.” To this aim, among the things members encouraged legislators to support are:
- Recovery community centers in each county, to help persons new to recovery to take the next steps. Often, people leave rehab with no plan on what to do next.
- Recovery coaches in each county, to help those new to recovery make sober decisions.
- Family recovery navigators in each county to help families on their new journey.
- Expanded access to treatment paid by health insurance for anyone who wants treatment, when they want it.
- Physician education on addiction and recovery.
- Addiction counseling for patients on suboxone.
Conklin and all those associated with this movement recognize that achieving these goals will require reducing the stigma attached to addiction by educating and informing those not directly impacted by it. The belief is this will increase the visibility of recovery, thereby increasing the constituency for change.
Lori, another FOR-Orange member, said, “My family was impacted by the alcoholism of my great-grandfather. Everyone grew up with the results of his alcoholism. I have many family members in recovery today. A lot of people don’t know their families were involved in addiction. I want people who don’t have families in addiction to know that recovery can have positive outcomes.”
Those outcomes can add up to a sizable benefit for society.
To get involved …
- Friends of Recovery Orange meets at the offices of the Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Council of Orange County on the first Wednesday of every month at 6 p.m. 224A Main Street, Goshen, NY
- (845) 294-9000 ext. 225
- website: friendsofrecovery-orange.org
- (518) 487-4395
Bob Gaydos is a freelance writer. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.