On Tuesday, February 2, 2010, two hundred recovering individuals came together in Albany to tell elected officials how they thought New York should deal with addiction issues. Organized by Friends of Recovery-NY (FOR-NY), a statewide grass-roots organization of recovering people, rally participants urged legislators to respond to drug misuse as a health issue rather than a criminal one and to stop arresting people for possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use. Advocates also want New York State to put more resources behind a recovery oriented system of care and to develop regulations that require recovering individuals be on the board of directors of drug treatment programs and included at all levels of drug law, budget and policy development.

Prior to making legislative office visits, a rally was held at Immanuel Baptist Church featuring recovering speakers from across the state. They spoke about inclusion and the intrinsic value of the voice of experience. The rally also had the support of various state legislators and officials. Brooklyn Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, Chairman of the Assembly’s Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Committee, encouraged participants to carry their message to all elected officials, to be insistent and make sure advocates come back again next year. Karen Carpenter-Palumbo, OASAS Commissioner, a long-term supporter of recovery centers, also offered her support and encouraged recovering people to tell their inspiring stories in order to help others.

FOR-NY members went into their own pockets to cover rally expenses. Drug Policy Alliance came through at the last moment with a grant to pay for a bus and lunches for advocates traveling from New York City and rally participants spontaneously passed the hat raising an additional $325 for the cause.

Another highlight of the inaugural rally was the participation of Sen. Thomas Duane from New York City, Chairman of the Senate’s Health Committee. A recovering person living with HIV for many years, Senator Duane shared about his many overnights in Albany spent in meeting rooms of different church basements. He moved rally participants with his humility and inspired us with his heart. Sen. Duane helped advocates to see the power of our coming together and reminded us that recovery was about love, acceptance and taking responsibility. Inspired by his message, participants left the rally with confidence and conviction, making their way to meet with Assemblyman and Senators.

For many participants, this was the first time speaking with elected officials and was a challenging but empowering experience. Organizers felt it was a good start and believe there will be many more of us next year. That’s the way recovery works. One addict helps another and that addict goes on to help ten others. It is a process of exponential engagement and the day will come when our numbers will be large and the powers that be in Albany will have to pay attention. The seed has been planted.