Tom Hill, vice president of addiction and recovery for the National Council, always reminds us, “You just have to do the next right thing.” For Tom, the first right thing was telling his own story of addiction and throwing off the yoke of secrecy and shame.
During National Recovery Month this September, we must do the next right thing until we get this right.
1. We must understand that addictions are preventable and treatable, and people can and do recover.
There is greater openness and awareness about addictions than ever before—fueled not only by the opioid epidemic, but by people young and old, and their families, freely telling their stories. People are sharing their struggles and celebrating their recovery.
But too many reject treatment, and, if they accept it, drop out. Engagement in treatment is key to recovery.
Addiction occurs in context. How hopeless or alone do you feel? Can you see a positive future? We need communities that provide effective treatments, offer recovery supports so people aren’t alone and impart the hope for a better life.
2. We must walk the talk.
Every one of us can be the difference (#BetheDifference), if we know what to say and what to do. That’s why Mental Health First Aid will begin training “First Aiders” in use of naloxone nasal spray to reverse an opioid overdose.
“People want to know what to do in an emergency, especially if they have a friend or family member struggling with addiction,” said Joe Parks, medical director and chair of the National Council’s Medical Director Institute.
First Aiders will learn how to recognize the signs of an opioid overdose and how to administer naloxone, potentially saving a life while waiting for professional help to arrive. You are far more likely to see someone in the throes of an addiction or mental health crisis than you are to see someone having a heart attack.
3. We must understand that beds are necessary, but not sufficient.
Despite wider acceptance of addiction as a recurring disorder, we have looked to an acute intervention—beds—to solve our addiction problems. The opioid crisis and the fear it generates drive this growth, and the result is a new industry: for-profit investors creating national brands.
There will never be enough beds if we continue to underemphasize comprehensive care in the community where people return to live and work. And medication-assisted treatment (MAT) alone isn’t enough. People revolve through inpatient care and all too often stop taking medication.
Relegating long-term cognitive treatments, illness management strategies and social connections to the sidelines contradicts the standard treatment of chronic disease. Yet, in addiction treatment, these important sources of recovery capital are, for the most part, ignored or financially starved.
4. We must fight injustice in all its forms.
Opioid-related fatalities continue to mount. Overdose deaths are double the number of gun homicides. Yet, there is reason for optimism. We’re emphasizing treatment over punishment.
We learned that we cannot arrest and incarcerate our way out of the opioid crisis, and now we know that a week of detoxification and a 28-day stay in a residential facility isn’t enough. It’s the same for grants, they’re not enough. Grants are a short-term solution, but addictions are a long-term problem.
Essential health benefits and the expansion of Medicaid, puts treatment within reach of all people struggling with an addictive disorder. Let’s keep doing the next right thing, not just during Recovery Month, but every month, until every person in this country who needs it can get the treatment and recovery services that will keep them well. Can we count on you?
Linda Rosenberg is president and CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health.