Much debate is happening around the country regarding the addiction crisis. A recent article published by the New York Times has a report from the CDC noting over 70,000 deaths in 2017 occurred from drug overdoses. The majority is in large part due to the synthetic opioid, Fentanyl.
Literally, every three weeks, we lose more Americans than we did on 9/11. Scarier still, many other drugs besides heroin are being laced with Fentanyl. I encourage you to look up Fentanyl to see picture of a lethal dose. We are being bombarded with headline after headline describing the tragic human cost of this public health crisis. But how can we end it?
Sometimes problems can be solved with relationships rather than programs. In the case of our addiction crisis, we need both. Recovery from addiction can be achieved with greater chances of success by combining quality programs (treatment, housing, life skills training) and peer support. Peer supporters have lived experience and a unique connection exists that cannot be replicated by many credentialed professionals. Peer support supplements professionals.
Many times, when a person reaches out for help, it’s like waking up in a foreign country. They’re scared and don’t know what to do. Neither does the family. A peer support specialist knows the language and how to navigate the entire recovery continuum, connecting them to valuable resources. Simply put, they help when others cannot.
We need them in hospitals, jails, treatment centers, and places where individuals are vulnerable. We need them alongside professionals. We need them leading the way. Does it work? According to the New York Times, Dayton, Ohio, once known as the overdose capital of the nation, has decreased their overdose rate by 54%. Among other things, Dayton is focusing on and investing in in peer recovery. Dayton’s G.R.O.W. program — Getting Recovery Options Working — dispatches teams of social workers, medics, police officers, and people in recovery to homes of people who have recently overdosed. The teams offer to help them get into treatment and to drive them to a program. They also supply them and their families with naloxone to have on hand in case it’s needed.
Hope is alive, but there is a long way to go. I and many others have witnessed men and women come back from the depths of hell to lead productive and purposeful lives. We all deserve a second chance, and peer recovery supports can help close the massive treatment gap that we have in this country. Dayton took a radical approach, and now the numbers prove that it’s working.
We cannot give up. It took six years of seeking help, trying to figure out what worked for me before I really turned my life around. That was a little over eleven years ago. Facing despair and hopelessness, people who never gave up helped me put together a beautiful life. Like others, I had severe consequences. I survived an overdose, wrecked many relationships, was unemployable, had trouble with law enforcement, a high school dropout, and many didn’t have much hope for me. I was considered by some a throw away, a society reject. Today, I get to be a college graduate and current doctoral student, a husband, a grateful daddy, a homeowner, contributor to my community, and many other positive ripples. All because people didn’t give up on me – and were there when I reached out for help. Even when it was the 10th time.
We can and we will do better. If we’re ever going to end this public health crisis, the people making decisions about us must bring the recovery community to the table. Dayton did it. And so can the rest of America.
Christopher S. Dickie is the CEO of Natural State Recovery Centers.