According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, “Every day, more than 130 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids.” In 2018 alone, opioids claimed the lives of more than 3,000 New Yorkers, according to the New York State Department of Health.
The misuse of and addiction to opioids—including prescription pain relievers, heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl—is a serious national crisis affecting public health as well as the social and economic welfare of our country. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that the total “economic burden of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion a year, including the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.”
It should be clear by now to most Americans that we are in a war to preserve the future of our nation against addiction. So, as in any war, a good tactician seeks to employ any weapon in their arsenal that can help guarantee success. Many of the weapons to date used to combat the opioid crisis include prevention, drug free treatment, medically assisted treatment and harm reduction.
However, health care professionals are finding that treatment alone—an integral part of the ongoing battle—is not solving the problem. Relapse rates are so high with people who struggle with S.U.D.s (substance use disorders), that the challenge is not only getting people off drugs but keeping them off drugs. As is the case with so many other chronic health conditions, diligence is required to avoid flare-ups and maintain recovery.
Historically the healthcare system has been driven by a notion of “medical necessity” in order for patients to qualify for treatment and continuing care. Too often, this translates into limited access to post-treatment or aftercare services for S.U.D. patients who no longer have the initially qualifying addiction. But sustained retreat from addiction is an ongoing process. Tools and resources are needed for people to lead sober and productive lives. This is where recovery centers can fill the gap, by offering a nonjudgmental post-treatment support system for sustaining and maintaining recovery.
In many ways, recovery centers are comparable to senior centers. Each model provides for a selection of pro-social services tailored to the needs of a select group of people. A core piece of each model is to offer social networking with a group of peers—people that participants can identify with—and a range of activities that promote healthy living such as positive recreational and educational activities.
At the start of the current opioid crisis, there were very few recovery centers in New York State. Now, thanks to the support of federal and state funding, by the end of 2019 there will be 35 with more expected to open.
Samaritan Daytop Village (SDV), operates two recovery centers in New York City, called Peer Alliance Recovery Centers (PARC). They provide non-clinical support, peer coaching, relapse prevention, recreation, social networking, computer training, vocational assistance and other community supports designed to help sustain and maintain recovery long term.
SDV’s first PARC, in Jamaica, Queens, has been open for almost three years. Its success led to the opening of a second one this summer in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx, a neighborhood with one of the highest numbers of heroin and fentanyl overdoses.
The results of PARC have been incredible. In addition to serving more than 1,300 clients (1,200 at PARC Queens since 2018 and 145 at PARC Bronx since its opening this summer), over 500 peer recovery coaches have been trained at our facilities, creating a small army of troops who are out there fighting the epidemic. Additionally, over 100 people have been trained by the centers in the use of Narcan, the opioid overdose reversal antidote.
My colleague, Christopher Kelly, a former SDV client now in recovery and working as a Recovery Coach at PARC Bronx, has spoken of the impact that PARC has had on his life. He said, “Every morning, I wake up with exuberance and zeal because at PARC Bronx I help guide and support participants on their recovery journeys. PARC Bronx is an absolutely amazing place and a blessing for all who can use it. As peers, we meet people where they are in their lives. Here, members can come to grow in spirit, career and in life. PARC is there every step of the way without judgment or rejection and holds a special place in my heart.”
People in recovery need to know recovery centers offer them safe, neutral zones where they can find the assistance they need to live productive, law abiding lives and contribute to the well-being of their families and their communities.
A long time ago (almost 40 years ago) when I first got into the field of addiction services (fresh out of treatment), I was told that the eventual goal of working in this industry was to put ourselves out of business by eliminating addiction. We may be the only industry intentionally striving for obsolescence. But imagine, if you will, a society in which the scourge of drug addiction is under control or almost nonexistent because there is a recovery center in every community catering to the needs of former addicts. The proliferation of recovery centers where people can sustain their recovery would go a long way toward achieving that goal.
Roy Kearse, LCSW, CASAC is Vice President of Recovery Services and Community Partnerships at Samaritan Daytop Village, where he is leading the agency’s efforts to create a recovery-oriented system of care and assist in our broader outreach efforts. Mr. Kearse has more than 35 years of experience in the field of human services, helping develop effective treatment in both substance use disorder and mental health settings. He is the author of “Poems from Recovery,” an anthology documenting his forty-year recovery journey published this year by Dorrance Publishing.