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Creating Sustainable Recovery Support Services

May 8, 2023

This guest post was written by Chad Sabora, the Senior Advisor for Faces & Voices of Recovery. Chad is in long-term recovery from substance use disorder. Chad also works as a policy advisor for SAMHSA and the Office of Drug Control Policy for the White House, and serves as Vice President of Government Relations for Indiana’s Center for Recovery.

The lawsuits and subsequent settlements between state and local governments and opioid manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies will result in an estimated $56 billion to combat the opioid crisis. To best utilize dollars from the settlements, The Principles for the Use of Funds from Opioid Litigation advise states and localities to use the money to save lives. Two key strategies outlined in Exhibit E: List of Opioid Remediation Uses of the settlement are: Investing the money in recovery-supportive services and implementing needed social justice reforms.

Recovery is defined as a process of change, and recovery-supportive services aim to help individuals improve their health, wellness, and quality of life. These services should be available to people who use drugs, those seeking recovery, and those in recovery. These are a lifesaving necessity for individuals engaged in any type of drug use. Recovery-supportive services include peer-led community-based programs, housing resources, support groups, social activities, education, and more. Organizations that provide recovery-supportive services are also one of the main points of distribution for harm reduction supplies including the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone, also known as Narcan.

Community-based organizations are the ideal setting to provide recovery-supportive services. These organizations are led by the same populations they are serving, which is a crucial factor because this population is more likely to be receptive to somebody with similar life experiences and who is also from their cultural community. These organizations are extremely efficient at engaging at-risk populations and retaining people in evidence-based care; they often have greater access to local resources than larger organizations or institutions do.

Additionally, studies have shown that community-based recovery support services are more effective at engaging individuals in treatment than traditional methods such as medical detoxification alone. Furthermore, community organizations can provide wraparound care—which includes case management services—that help ensure individuals receive comprehensive care throughout the recovery process. It is crucial to offer comprehensive care because those programs can identify any issue that could be a detriment to the person’s recovery and ensure the individual has the best chances possible to achieve long-term recovery.

Investing in these organizations will not only increase the chances that somebody will find recovery, but they also give individuals their best possible chance at achieving sustainable long-term recovery, reducing recidivism rates and people’s return to use. This investment will not only save more lives but it will save more dollars which can be spent in other areas in need of funding. However, organizations like these must be sure to provide culturally appropriate care given how wide-reaching the opioid crisis is across different racialized and marginalized communities that have been especially affected by this epidemic.

The opioid crisis has impacted millions of people across the world, and yet our drug policies often result in more harm than they prevent. It is no secret that there are correlations between drug use and other social determinants of health and that our current criminal justice system unfairly targets those who are already struggling with poverty, lack of access to healthcare, and other issues involving social equity. A major shift away from the traditional criminalization of drugs towards reparative systems that prioritize social justice and equity – such as improved access to services, providing jobs, and safe housing – over lengthier sentences and punitive sanctions will help to support individuals who use drugs. This approach would allow our policymakers to create more effective strategies for helping those affected by substance use disorder while at the same time holding individuals accountable for the breakage of existing regulations, thus creating opportunities for individuals to thrive. Only then can we strive towards ensuring an equitable society free from oppressive policies rooted in systemic racism (See Principle 4: Focus on Racial Equity).

As jurisdictions receive funds from the lawsuits and settlements of opioid companies, they should consider an investment in recovery-supportive services. This will help create stability for people who are in recovery and allow them to have access to necessary resources. The organizations providing recovery-supportive services can also address other needs of people who use drugs by providing safe spaces and adequate medical care. Additionally, we need to begin addressing the needs of disenfranchised communities through social justice reform. Together, these investments and changes will give everyone a fair chance at achieving their full potential.

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