Student Voices for Recovery

by Meagan Sulikowski

There is a new public health emergency, the opioid epidemic. The term opioid encompasses everything from synthetic opioids to prescription opioids, even including pharmaceutical-grade heroin. Some common opioids are fentanyl, heroin, oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone. With a renewed focus on what should be done to combat the opioid epidemic, the White House Opioid Commission recently released a list of requests. They want more treatment options, tighter prescribing guidelines and additional drug courts (Reuters 2017). Focusing on these areas is necessary; but funding, resources and media attention should also be used to support recovery resources.

Resources and media attention should also be dedicated to recovery resources because recovery is a life long journey. In the alcohol and other drug recovery field, short-term recovery is abstinence for a year, while long-term recovery is abstinence for at least five years. By analyzing long-term and short-term recovery descriptions, one can assume that relapse is likely to occur. Although a person is likely to relapse at least once, “the relapse rates for people with addiction and other substance use disorders are similar to relapse rates for other well-understood chronic medical illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma, which also have both physiological and behavioral components” (National Institute on Drug Abuse 2014). Reasons and circumstances for why a person relapses are many and vary from person to person. If they decide to seek out inpatient treatment, treatment usually only last a couple days or weeks and there is a void for who will support them when they go back to their every day lives. Therefore, it is important to dedicate resources and attention to recovery support services in addition to treatments.

Today, there are community recovery resources and organizations that are helping people through the recovery process but their numbers are few and resources scarce to meet current and future demands. These services and organizations provide people with support to maintain their sobriety, sober living houses for a soft transition back into the community, host sober events, advocate for policy changes and work to eliminate the stigma associated with substance use and recovery.  In my internship, I am currently compiling a list of recovery houses throughout the State of Wisconsin by doing research and contacting every County’s Department of Human Services. So far, my research and questioners have yielded the fact that a number of counties have a need for recovery houses with some having no options available.

Recovery is something that is achievable, but there are very few messages of hope in main stream media related to the opioid crisis. Most news stories on the opioid epidemic are either focused on which treatment options are best, new programs designed to combat the crisis, blaming each other for not doing something sooner and blaming pharmaceutical companies, death tolls, or babies in the backs of cars with their parents passed out in the front seat. Images depicting these stories are usually pharmaceutical opioid pills, people’s arms with needles in them and people passed out. Every day there are more and more recovery success stories, these successes should be acknowledged and need to be celebrated.

The overall goal of all these various efforts is to save lives, which is another way of saying we want to get people into recovery. Recovery is a life long journey, people will need support for years to come, not just a couple days or months after an overdose. There are currently not enough community recovery resources and organizations and they do not have enough resources to meet current and future demands. Recovery is something that is achievable, but there are very few messages of hope in main stream media. These are all reasons why funding, resources and media attention should also be used to support recovery resources.

Meagan Sulikowski is an intern with Wisconsin Voices for Recovery and a 2nd year MSW student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.