September is National Recovery Month. Generally speaking, it's a month devoted to increasing awareness about substance-use disorder and celebrating the successes of those in recovery.
But I'm concerned with the statistics around treatment.
According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, some 21.2 million people above the age of 12 in the U.S. needed substance use treatment in the past year. "Stated another way," the report says, "about 1 in 13 people aged 12 or older needed substance use treatment." But only 10 percent of those people get treatment.
Why? Isn't there a ton of money out there to address the opioid epidemic? I'll tell you why many people would rather die alone than ask for help: stigma. Many of us carry a deep and weighted shame about experiencing addiction. We know our culture holds individualism and success in the highest regard—and that mentality is fertile ground for the judgement which says: "You did this to yourself. If you were a better (stronger, harder working, more caring, less selfish) person you wouldn't be addicted. Just say no."
Those of us who experience addiction come to expect that type of stigma from society. But where do people longing for recovery go when even the recovery community itself judges and rejects them?
For decades we've had a gold standard medical treatment for opioid use disorder—buprenorphine, methadone and naltrexone. Despite its undeniable and life-saving effectiveness, medication assisted treatment (MAT) is criticized as "not real recovery." People on MAT are often told they may attend 12 step meetings, but they may not speak —because they aren't considered sober. Partners, friends and family commonly accuse people on MAT of "substituting one addiction for another." That's not true. The risk of overdose death is more real than ever.
So the theme for this, the 30th year of National Recovery Month, is Join the Voices for Recovery: Together We are Stronger. I propose a gathering of the recovery community in mutual acceptance, healing and celebration of sobriety—regardless of our treatment choices. Let's join hands and openly stand together against stigma, not one another. Let's celebrate the spirit of heart, health and justice that should bind us because together we are stronger.
Please join me in a public celebration of recovery in Santa Rosa on Sept. 21. If you're a person in recovery, or you want to fight the stigma that has taken so many of our loved ones away, email me at RecoveryMonth2019@gmail.com
Marla Pfohl is a resident of Bennett Valley. We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 350 words considered for publication, write firstname.lastname@example.org.