At the height of the AIDS epidemic in 1995, headlines screamed that AIDS had become the leading killer of Americans between the ages of 25 and 44, with more than 49,000 people having succumbed to the disease. Earlier during the 1980s, when people were already dying from AIDS, public officials simply ignored it. People were hesitant to say the word “AIDS.” Some said it was God’s way of punishing the morally delinquent “gays.” Others were denied treatment because “they deserved to die.” Public policy was held hostage by stigma and fear, while compassion, care, research, and treatment were denied to the sick and suffering.  But there were those who stood up and spoke out, because they saw they had nothing to lose. AIDS galvanized them into action. They were in a fight to survive a plague, and they knew that silence equaled death. So they came out to their families, their friends, and their lawmakers. They demonstrated, wrote letters, met with government officials, rallied in cities around the country, creatively challenging decision makers and the public, and demanded prevention, treatment and recovery services for their illness.

The parallels between AIDS and the current addiction epidemic are undeniable. While nearly every family in America is affected by addiction, stigma and discrimination hold many back from speaking publicly about its impact.  Published comments are sometimes met with disdain and contempt. People struggling with addiction often feel less deserving of care and treatment than people with other chronic illnesses. According to recent statistics provided by the Surgeon General, today in New York State, one in ten people get the care and treatment they need for their disorder. Think about that for a moment.

Generally, people with other chronic illness receive care and treatment on demand. If they have cancer, there are many options available. If they have diabetes, they receive insulin, no matter how many times they eat a sugary treat. If they have a heart attack, they get emergency services and are referred to aftercare. But with addiction, many suffering have been denied treatment. Hospitals have regularly sent people home if they weren’t far enough into withdrawal or “sick enough.” And left untreated, addiction has significant and dire consequences. For many people that means jails, institutions, and death.

Today, many who once struggled and suffered are in remission because someone invested in them and helped make their recovery possible. Not only for them – but for the 23.5 million people living with the same disease that they have – who have gone on to live remarkable lives.

We have come a long way in terms of bringing awareness to the chronic illness of addiction and the power and promise that recovery brings to millions of people in New York State and nationwide.

Only a few years ago, we had limited resources available for recovery. Most of the public discussion about addiction centered on prevention and treatment, with very little attention paid to recovery. In New York, a handful of committed advocates embarked on educating the public around the solution of recovery to the public health crisis that has since exploded. Recovery supports and services were virtually non-existent outside 12-step meetings. We were anonymous.

And then we began stepping out of the shadows. A movement of individuals and family members joined forces and started speaking out publicly and sharing their personal stories of hope and healing. The science of addiction and recovery shed empirical light on the fact that addiction was not a moral deficiency, but a chronic illness that needs to be treated as such. Better forms of treatment and multiple pathways to recovery have been developed, and policies have improved. Similarly, increased state and federal funding for prevention, treatment and recovery services have been made available, including a Request for Applications (RFA) through OASAS for $450,000, and the federal $200,000 CARA Building Communities of Recovery Funding Opportunity (FOA No. TI-17-015).  The more applications that are submitted, the more we demonstrate the overwhelming need for additional recovery supports and services.

During the month remaining in the 2017 Legislative Session, let us not waver in our efforts to bring attention to the power and promise of recovery. Let us not become complacent. Because of the work that you are doing, changes in public policy have altered the landscape of how this public health crisis is perceived and addressed. Because of your advocacy, decision makers across the state are embracing recovery as a chronic illness from which individuals and families can recover. They’re understanding that individuals can recover as long as they have access to effective treatment and recovery supports and services in their communities.

The FOR-NY team is honored to be working with you to build recovery supports and services across New York State. Ours is a meaningful mission and we are profoundly thankful for your support.

With gratitude for all that you do,