This week, the 20th FOR-NY Recovery Talks: Community Listening Forum was held in the Bronx, NY. Recovery warriors from across the northern borough of New York City stood up and spoke out to key decision makers about their experiences in recovery. Stories of hope and healing from multiple pathways of recovery that ranged from harm reduction, to medication, to traditional mutual aid support were shared by courageous advocates. Their message rang loudly throughout the Lincoln Center Auditorium, and at times, moved members of the listening panel to tears. Each advocate echoed the same message: that the miracle of recovery was made possible for them because someone addressed their chronic illness with compassion, instilled hope, and reversed the internalized stigma of self-hatred and isolation caused by active addiction.

Participants noted that five years ago, such a conversation would not have been imaginable. Such a realization is the direct consequence of a shift in negative public perception surrounding addiction, spearheaded by the recovery community and our allies. One ally in particular – former Bronx resident and current OASAS Commissioner Arlene González-Sánchez – was awarded the esteemed 2018 Ramstad/Kennedy award this month in Washington DC. Her outstanding leadership and determined efforts in blazing the path as a national leader committed to destigmatizing recovery is changing the way that public polices to promote recovery are being implemented in New York State.

We know that the numbers of individuals dying from addiction are staggering. We also know that the solution to the addiction public health crisis is recovery. Commissioner González-Sánchez has embodied the National Recovery Month theme Join the Voices of Recovery: Strengthen Families and Communities by consistently promoting activities, policies, regulatory reform, and legislative initiatives that support the goals of National Recovery Month – not just during the month of September, but throughout the entire year.

Recently the Commissioner was nominated for the respected Voice Award, for her role in the creation of the documentary film, Reversing the Stigma, a documentary film explaining individual and families’ experiences as they confront addition. In the film, people share their real-life experiences and lessons learned, sharing the miracle of recovery that change is possible, treatment works, and recovery is real.

Released in September 2017, the documentary was shown throughout New York at multiple venues and aired on public television, reaching thousands of viewers. The message: “Anyone can become addicted. If we truly want to fight addiction, it starts with Reversing the Stigma,” has been used as a valuable tool for individuals in the recovery community to combat the stigma around addiction recovery, and share the power and promise of recovery for both individuals and families.

The Commissioner did not stop there. New York State has the fourth-largest Latino population in the US, with nearly one in five New Yorkers who identify as Latino or Hispanic. New York’s certified programs treat 54,000 Latinos annually for addiction. In December 2017, Nueva Esperanza, Nueva Vida con OASAS – a 10-episode, Spanish-language video series addressing the cultural differences that impact the ways substance use, addiction and recovery are viewed in the Latino community – was released to raise awareness of the available prevention, treatment, and recovery services that are available.

These new public awareness campaigns are changing the way the public views addiction and recovery. The language of recovery is permeating public discourse. Our decision makers are listening to advocates’ calls for community-based addiction services and supports for individuals and families. The result is that the landscape is changing around prevention, treatment and recovery in New York State. New initiatives, such as the 24/7 Open Access Centers and Recovery High Schools, and new regulations to address the egregious patient brokering practices that have devastated hundreds of individuals and family members seeking recovery are on the horizon. There are now Certified Recovery Peer Advocates to support recovery in 20 locations; Family Support Navigators in 17 locations; Youth Clubhouses in 14 locations; Recovery Community Centers in 16 locations; and Regional Addiction Recovery Resource Centers in 10 locations that provide recovery services and supports for individuals and families. The Youth Voices Matter – New York initiative is now building local youth recovery communities across the Empire State.

These changes did not happen in a vacuum. They are the direct result of changing the hearts and minds of the public. A new-found celebration of recovery has developed because of new partnerships and collaborations that are forming, such as the 3rd Annual Recovery Conference that will be coming in August. Our community of allies in New York spans the prevention, treatment, and recovery world and includes such valuable partners as the Council for Addiction New York State (CANYS), New York State Alcoholism Substance Abuse Providers (NYSASAP), New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services (NYAPRS), the NYS Council for Community Behavioral Health (NYSCCBH), Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), Legal Action Center (LAC), Coalition Of Medication Assisted Treatment Providers and Advocates (COMPRA), Greater New York Hospital Association (GNYHA), and NYS Conference of Local Mental Hygiene Directors, to name a few.

We have come a long way in bringing awareness to the chronic illness of addiction and the power and promise that recovery brings to millions of people in New York State. But it will take more than a village to treat this public health pandemic. And while the recovery community is gathering an army of allies because of the respect you have earned through your tireless work, our journey is not complete.

During the final month remaining in the 2018 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 your work, changes in public policy have altered the landscape of how this public health crisis is perceived and addressed. New Emergency Room Protocols are being implemented. Pharmaceutical manufacturers are now contributing a dedicated revenue stream to help clean up the costs associated with this pandemic. Let us continue our advocacy efforts, so that decision makers treat addiction as a public health issue, not as a moral failing. Let us press upon our leaders the reality that that individuals can recover – so 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 and deeply thankful for your support.

With gratitude for all that you do,

Stephanie Campbell