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Grassroots Advocacy: Addiction Recovery Support in New York State

The recently released 413-page, Surgeon General’s Report, “Facing Addiction in America – Alcohol, Drugs & Health,” (the first report of its kind to focus on the public health crisis of addiction) is being compared to the 1964 Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking credited with millions of lives saved. Similarly, in “Facing Addiction,” Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has issued a Call to Action to end the public health crisis of addiction, which would also save millions of people.

The Surgeon General announced plans to write the report at the October 4, 2015, “UNITE to Face Addiction” rally on the National Mall in Washington, DC. The rally attracted tens of thousands of Americans in addiction recovery, their families, friends and other recovery allies intent on erasing the shame and stigma of addiction, eliminating discrimination and advocating for recovery-oriented attitudes, programs and services. Events like the UNITE rally and those held during National Addiction Recovery Month where recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs is publicly celebrated, have brought the reality of long-term recovery out of the shadows and on to the national stage.

In fact, Chapter 5 of the Surgeon General’s Report, “Recovery – The Many Paths to Wellness,” is dedicated to recovery and the critical need for community-based recovery support services. Almost a decade ago, the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) expressed the need to treat addiction as a chronic disease, not an acute health crisis, and recognized that efforts to support individuals and families required a major shift in how to promote and support long-term recovery. As a result, in 2007, OASAS created its Bureau of Recovery Services, established the Recovery Implementation Team (RIT) and began to focus on the development of a Recovery Oriented System of Care (ROSC). Regrettably, the investment of desperately needed funding to make this a reality, was unavailable.

Nearly ten years later, as a direct result of grassroots advocates standing up for recovery, great progress is being made. This year, New York’s growing network of dedicated advocates and recovery organizations, inspired policymakers to provide funding for community-based Recovery Support Services (RSS) and here is how it is being implemented:

Recovery Community Organizations (RCOs): Recovery Community Organizations (RCOs) are independent organizations led by local recovery advocates (individuals in long-term recovery, their families and friends, recovery-focused professionals, or concerned citizens). According to the Association of Recovery Community Organizations (ARCO) at Faces & Voices of Recovery, RCOs “help to bridge the gap between professional treatment and building healthy and successful lives in long-term recovery. They increase the visibility and influence of the recovery community and engage in one or more of three core activities: 1) Educating the public about the reality of recovery, 2) Advocating on behalf of the recovery community, 3) Delivering peer-support services.”

The first RCOs in New York, the Long Island Recovery Association (LIRA), established in 2000 and Friends of Recovery Delaware and Otsego (FOR-DO), established in 2004, and other local advocates have led the way. Today, there are fourteen active RCOs throughout the state and three (3) more are in development. Progress!

Recovery Coaching: Recovery coaching is a form of strengths-based support for persons in or seeking recovery. In most cases, the individual in or seeking recovery, focuses on their own program of recovery and the Recovery Coach helps the recoveree set and achieve important goals that support positive change. Current estimates indicate there are over 300 Certified Recovery Peer Advocates (CRPAs) and more than 350 Certified Addiction Recovery Coach (CARCs) in New York State. Without question, the value of peer recovery professionals is critically important to system reform and full implementation of the Recovery Oriented System of Care. Progress!

Recovery Community & Outreach Centers (RCOCs): Recovery Community & Outreach Centers (RCOCs) provide a community-based, non-clinical setting that is safe, welcoming and alcohol/drug-free for any member of the community.

Each RCOC responds to local needs by promoting sustained recovery through social and emotional support, skill building, recreation, wellness education, employment readiness, civic restoration opportunities, and other activities. In 2009, OASAS funded the state’s first three RCOCs; and in 2016, as a direct result of recovery advocacy, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced $12 million in funding to establish eleven (11) more RCOCs. Once they open, New York will have an RCOC in each of its ten Economic Development Zones (EDZ) and each of the five boroughs of New York City. Progress!

Youth Clubhouses (YCHs): New York’s Youth Clubhouses are first-of-their-kind, community-based havens that promote peer-driven support and services in a non-clinical setting for young New Yorkers (ages 13-17 and 18-21). Each YCH helps young people build and sustain recovery, as well as supports those at risk for addiction to develop social skills that promote prevention, long-term health, wellness, recovery and a drug-free lifestyle. A variety of services including homework, tutoring, college and job preparation, community service opportunities, sports and fitness activities, group entertainment activities and peer mentoring may also be available. In 2016, Governor Cuomo announced nearly $2.6 million to create eleven (11) clubhouses across the state. All are expected to be operating in early 2017. Progress!

Family Support Navigators and Peer-Support Specialists: Family Support Navigators (FSNs) and Peer-Support Specialists are valuable new positions being established. Governor Cuomo recently announced $2.85 million in annual funding to support two of each position in the ten Economic Development Zones and Long Island. Progress!

Clearly, the voice of recovery is being heard, and we’re seeing tremendous system reform in the area of addiction recovery in New York State. Recovery advocacy has resulted in the investment of needed funding to expand community-based Recovery Support Services (RSS) across the state, and policymakers and the healthcare system are recognizing the critical need for RSS in responding to the greatest public health crisis modern American society has faced.

Individuals and families can and do recover from addiction as long as evidence-based treatments and responsive, long-term, community-based recovery supports are available and accessible to all. The Surgeon General’s report calls for more research on recovery supports and services. We look forward to the advances that future research will provide and to continuing to build recovery supports and services that ultimately save lives.

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