We can no longer debate the harsh reality. The opioid crisis is real. Fentanyl and heroin overdoses continue to rise at an alarming rate. From 2003-2015 2,590 people unintentionally overdosed from opioids in the state of Ohio. This is 84.9% of all accidental overdoses recorded over that time. Recovery supports are becoming more and more important with each passing day. Now more than ever, we need to build out the continuum of care and invest in recovery support services. Whether it’s the language we use, the way in which we view substance use disorders (SUD) in the court of law, or the gaps that we begin to fill, changes need to be made. 89% of people who need treatment are not getting the help they need. Work continues to be done on educating society on one simple message; recovery is possible.
Recovery language is vital to shifting the tides at work. What we say and how we say it has the power to help or hurt. This disease will continue to be viewed through a criminal justice lens as long as we continue to talk about it as such. Derogatory terms like “addict”, “drunk” and “junkie” have negative connotations that have been engrained in us for decades. We see this as criminal behavior because that is what we were taught. If we continue the work of shifting towards proper recovery language then together we can shift the culture towards healing our communities.
“People suffering from a SUD are not bad people trying to get good, they are sick people trying to get well.” Words that echo through recovery circles and treatment centers across the country. Yet incarceration still seems to be the go to for government spending. Studies show that if just 10% of drug related incarcerations were differed to treatment, lifetime societal net benefits reflect $8.5 billion relative to baseline. And if that percentage climbs to the still reasonable 40%, we could see net benefits of $22.5 billion dollars. Treatment is not only cheaper, it is also more effective. In New York state, they saw a 21% decrease in reconviction rates when people received a treatment alternative! While treatment is effective and results in cost savings, it isn’t the end of the continuum.
What we do after initial treatment is paramount to providing those with SUD a continuum of care. Studies show that the change of returning to use rates diminish the longer the individual maintains their recovery. After just five years of remission, return to use rates drop below 15%. The goal here is to ensure that individuals have access to a continuum of care and ongoing recovery supports so they can reach this critical five year mark. There are many ways to foster and develop SUD recovery. Whether its outpatient treatment programs, medically-assisted treatment (MAT) or collegiate recovery programs (CRP), all of these fall on the continuum of care for SUD, and all have been proven effective. Programs like the Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Drug Misuse Prevention and Recovery (HECAOD) and CRPs across the country look to foster an environment that promotes the expansion to the continuum of care for people recovering from SUD.
While this crisis may seem daunting, there are things we can do right now to make an impact. Firstly, we should incorporate recovery language in our lives in order to help destigmatize the jaded view of SUD. Treatment is not only more humane than incarceration, it’s more effective. Additionally, look to support legislation that encourages treatment over incarceration and taking a public health approach to ending this epidemic rather than a criminal justice approach. Lastly, we need to continue investing in recovery supports! Programs all across the country are making an impact into the opioid crisis. A SUD is a not a character problem, it’s a community problem. We rise and fall as one, and if we take the proper steps we can all recover, together.
Sarah Nerad, Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Drug Misuse Prevention and Recovery, Director of Recovery