Homo sapiens are a consistent source of disappointment. I often wonder whether humans can really be Nature’s last word. However, the antidote to this pessimism was served up in full on November 4 at the Summit for NCADD-NJ’s volunteer Advocates held at Rutgers in New Brunswick.
Primarily consisting of people living in recovery and their families, all have endured quite a lot. Into each life, as the poet says, some rain must fall. Almost all at the gathering have been on the receiving end of a torrent, but continue to fight back, and win. It was a day for honing skills, sharing information and expressions of gratitude. What I’ve always found so admirable about our Advocates, is their generosity of spirit. In addition to dealing with health issues, stigma, lack of access to appropriate care, battles with insurance companies, and financial setbacks, amazingly, they have been able to devote some of their strength to the service of others. Much of their effort won’t benefit them. Their noble hearts have directed them to reach down and help others up the ladder. One of the most moving moments of the event, was the graduation presentation by state Senator Patrick Diegnan to Advocate Amalia Papi. The Senator came off his re-election campaign three days before Election Day because, as he put it, “Amelia is forever doing for others and it is fitting that her hard work be finally recognized.” The same could be said for each of the Advocate Leaders.
The relatively recent more refined understanding of the addiction problem both among the general public and policy makers, is attributable in no small degree, to the Herculean efforts of our Advocates. They have put the human (there is that word again) touch on the dilemma. Thanks in large measure to them, the disorder that once dare not speak its name, now won’t shut up. And there have been specific, substantive public policy reforms for which they have been at least partly responsible. Some of these were delineated at the Summit, and include: dedicated enhancements of state budgets to provide treatment and recovery, invitations to appear at public forums and in the media, the Good Samaritan Law, criminal record expungement revisions, evidence-based school instruction on addiction, added recovery housing at university and college campuses, improved drug therapy programs in lock-up facilities, Ban the Box legislation, increased availability of naloxone, and a statewide implementation of needle exchange initiatives. And these only begin to detail the far-reaching improvements to public policies that the Advocates can be most proud.
Meanwhile, it is acknowledged, that the work must continue. As New Jersey sees a new Governor and Legislative Term embark, the struggles go on. After the November Fourth victory lap, it is realized that more needs to be done. Insurance companies must be made to cover more anti-opioid medications, and to reimburse for behavioral healthcare on a par with the manner in which they do for medical and surgical therapies. There needs to be expungement reform for people living in long-term recovery, and not only for people who had the opportunity to complete drug court. Schools, and other public venues must stock and utilize naloxone. There should be an expansion of recovery community centers throughout the Garden State.
Knowing that there is more that needs to be accomplished, and wanting ever to improve the message and its delivery, the two hundred Advocates in attendance spent a good portion of the day in training workshops. Topics included: integration of mental health and substance use disorder, insurance parity, self care for advocates, helping young people, and the role of peer-to-peer support as part of therapy.
So, the Advocate Summit was partly a pat on the back, part educational, and part pep rally. We’re all looking forward to the next one.
P.S. Here are some photographs of the event