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Linda Rosenberg

Former President and CEO, National Council for Behavioral Health

Recovery Month: A Time For Some Tough Questions

September 19, 2014 | Addiction | Healthcare | Comments
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September is National Recovery Month, a time to shine a spotlight on the strides the addiction and mental health communities have taken in the prevention, treatment and recovery-support services for addictions and mental illnesses. Now in its 25th year, the campaign’s central message that “prevention works, treatment is effective and people recover” is something we believe in and we’ve witnessed.

But perhaps we should also spend some time this month asking some tough questions. While we trust in our prevention and treatment strategies, could they be more robust?  The reality is that most people — less than 11 percent — who need treatment for an illicit drug or alcohol problem receive it. Not only are more than 23 million Americans addicted to alcohol and drugs, but because so many of these people go undiagnosed and untreated, the estimated annual combined health care cost and lost productivity is some $365 billion.

The deaths of celebrities like Whitney Houston, Heath Ledger and Philip Seymour Hoffman from drug overdoses serve as stinging reminders that episodic treatment does not always equal recovery. The NIDA estimates that 40 to 60 percent of recovering addicts will backslide, meaning that relapse is not only possible, but likely. The fact that celebrities, who had access to many more resources than most Americans, relapse underscores that addiction can be a chronic disease that is extremely difficult to control without ongoing treatment and community supports.

For many people who do seek treatment, recovery can be only temporary unless they receive ongoing care. When it comes to diabetes or heart disease or cancer, we stick with people and we offer treatment that sticks. Tom McLellan, compares the addiction treatment process in this country to a washing machine. We churn people through before they’ve had a chance to heal. “There are no 30-day diabetes programs, and they certainly don’t have graduation ceremonies,” he says

Addictions have emerged as America’s biggest public health crisis. The time has come to redesign addiction services using a chronic disease model that tailors treatment to the patient’s needs and creates capacity in every community, including: single points of access to triage people into the appropriate level of care; emergency treatments; residential services; housing with restorative services; case/care management; medication assisted treatment; cognitive interventions; and family support. It will take the growing movement of people in recovery and their families, supported by all of us, to drive change.

We believe our merger with the State Associations of Addiction Services (SAAS) is a step toward the goal of delivering a full range of addiction services to every corner of our country. The merger expands our addiction expertise and strengthens our advocacy voice with the Administration, in Congress, and in states and local communities. We are stronger together, and we plan to be a resounding voice for people with addictions across the nation.