Perspective: Presidential Opioid Commission’s Final Recommendations Must Include Recovery Supports

August 08, 2017

Tom Coderre

Stock photo of young people lighting paper lanterns on a rooftop.

The federal Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis last week released its much anticipated recommendations. Some of them were bold and constructive, including calling for the President to declare a national state of emergency, a move that would bring about urgent coordinated actions between state and federal authorities to address the opioid crisis. But a critical piece to solving this challenge—supporting people in recovery—was missing.

Recovery support is not a new or experimental idea—for decades it has been accepted as part of the chronic care standard to treat addiction, ranking in importance alongside prevention, intervention, and treatment. It’s also not a new idea at the federal level. The White House National Drug Control Strategy for several years has encouraged the expansion of community-based recovery support programs. And the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has initiated and sustained a range of grant programs to develop a recovery-oriented system and to enhance peer recovery support services.

Due to a better understanding of addiction through science and medicine, we know that individuals with a substance use disorder, just like those suffering from chronic conditions, require ongoing support to maintain remission. In the cases when individuals return to using, they need speedy re-intervention to bring them back to health. Research shows that it can take up to 5 years of sustained recovery before an individual’s risk of returning to use drops below 15 percent. That’s why these supports are so critical for addressing the opioid crisis and addiction in general.

So, what are the services people in recovery need? They are a collection of community services that can provide emotional and practical support for continuing remission as well as daily structure and rewarding alternatives to substance use. These services include recovery schools, peer-led programs, recovery coaching, mutual aid groups, housing, education, employment and social resources.

The Commission will continue to deliberate and receive input about additional strategies needed to end this crisis. In their final report, they must add recovery support to their list of critical solutions. The Commission also should examine innovative programs, such as deploying peer coaches in emergency departments, community outreach teams to recognized overdose hotspots, and counselors to provide recovery support through phone calls and text messages. Peers also have joined law enforcement to help engage those struggling to obtain necessary services.

None of this is possible without investment. Recovery support is currently delivered by independent, nonprofit local groups called Recovery Community Organizations and other peer-led programs. These often small, under-resourced groups need to grow and expand so they can respond to the unprecedented level of need our country is currently experiencing. It is crucial that we fund the recovery part of the continuum with the same level of commitment we give to prevention, intervention, and treatment. Because if we don’t invest in recovery supports, we won’t solve the opioid crisis or the larger addiction crisis America faces.

Facing Addiction, a national non-profit organization, is collecting comments in support of President Trump taking action on the Commission’s Emergency Declaration recommendation. To add your name in support of this life-saving federal action, click here.

Altarum is a nonprofit organization that works with federal and state agencies and foundations to design and implement solutions to improve the health of individuals with fewer financial resources and populations disenfranchised by the health care system. We achieve measurable results by combining our expertise in public health and health care delivery with technology, workforce training and continuing education, applied research, and technical assistance. Our innovative solutions lead to better health for beneficiaries and better value for payers.
Presidential Opioid Commission’s Final Recommendations Must Include Recovery Supports


Tom Coderre

Tom Coderre is the Senior Advisor to Governor Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island. He formerly served as a senior advisor at Altarum's Center for Behavioral Health and the national field director of Faces and Voices of Recovery, and is a national leader in the field of addiction recovery.