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As I reflect on the changes in the recovery movement, one of the developments that makes me the proudest is that I personally and we as a movement have legitimized and become open to medication assisted recovery. In large part, Lisa Mojer-Torres blazed the way forward for that development.
No one who has worked harder as a national advocate for medication-assisted recovery. She is one of the first people to brave presenting herself to the larger American recovery advocacy and addiction treatment communities as living proof of the role methadone maintenance can play in long-term recovery. Her vivid story of personal recovery, including pursuing and completing law school and passing the bar exams in New York and New Jersey, and her tireless advocacy on behalf of methadone patients have forced many people in the addictions field to rethink their own beliefs about methadone maintenance.
As a committed recovery advocate, Lisa seems to be everywhere. Her activities span television and press interviews, congressional testimony, participation in key policy-shaping groups (from the Institute of Medicine to CSAT’s National Advisory Committee), serving leadership positions in recovery advocacy organizations (including the board of Faces & Voices of Recovery), one-on-one lobbying, writing columns for advocacy newsletters, marching in recovery celebration events, and being a relentless educator to people in policy positions—all while managing the challenges of pregnancy, motherhood and her recent treatment for cancer.
There is much that I could say about Lisa and why she deserves recognition for her work on behalf of recovering people and their families, but one story comes to mind that I think vividly illustrates her personal power. Lisa and I were each asked to provide a keynote at a statewide addictions conference in a state in which methadone maintenance treatment was utilized but highly stigmatized in both public and professional circles, including addiction treatment circles. It was in this climate that Lisa stood and talked about the science of methadone maintenance treatment and then, whether by instinct or plan, described her own story in language so clear and poignant that the entire audience was spellbound. In my four decades in this field, I have never witnessed such a powerful first person account of medication-assisted recovery. She didn’t mince words about the problems of poor quality in the delivery of MMT, but her story about methadone’s potential role in recovery was more singularly persuasive than another dozen scientific committee reports. The professionals in the audience were profoundly moved by her presentation and surrounded her with questions and words of appreciation. As I was leaving the ballroom after her keynote address, I encountered a person who had once shared with me privately the closely guarded secret that he had been in methadone-supported recovery for more than his first decade working as a counselor in the addictions field. Within moments of Lisa finishing her talk, he responded as follows when I asked him how he was doing: “It feels like my first step out of the closet.” Nothing conveyed to me the prolonged stigma attached to methadone and the importance of Lisa’s story more than the look on his face when he shared those words.
At an even more personal level, Lisa has been singularly responsible for encouraging me to speak out and to write about medication-assisted treatment and recovery. Nothing I have contributed on this issue in the past decade would have occurred without her challenges to me and her mentorship.
- Bill White
In the early days before I knew Lisa well and before it was popular to “put a face on recovery,” Lisa was out there putting a face on the fact that methadone maintenance IS recovery. I watched her carefully at SAMHSA meetings to see if she was nodding, and she watched me at those meeting out of the corner of her eye to see if I was going to try to slip in some favorable provision for one of my treatment centers – Hazelden Foundation and Betty Ford Center – where I had made the rounds as a patient. We did that sort of Mexican standoff for a couple of years, but Lisa kept presenting at meetings and conferences on the importance of methadone maintenance, kept authoring papers and she kept telling her powerful personal story of how methadone maintenance played such an important part in her recovery.
When Lisa and I became founding Board members of Faces and Voices of Recovery, our mutual love for public policy and my respect for her as an advocate brought us together. Lisa served as a role model for me so that I could begin to tell my own story. In one instance when I spoke to a reporter for a Washington, DC based magazine about particular drugs I had used and they published a front page story with a caption calling me an IV drug user, Lisa was the first to call and reach out to me to make sure that I was not going to suffer the consequences at work.
If all of Lisa’s accomplishments in front of the microphones, panels, symposiums, speeches, testimonies, marches and being a tireless advocate was not enough – how she operated behind the scenes with players in New York, New Jersey, the philanthropic community and her family was a marvel to behold. Lisa could work a crowd and still make a single state agency director or other politician feel like THE only person in a 5,000 person crowd she was talking to. She could do conference calls on arcane policy matters while making dinner and tending to two kids and a husband while proofing an Institute of Medicine transcript.
- Carol McDaid
Lisa is a tireless advocate for the dignity and rights of people seeking care and in long-term recovery from addiction. She has been a pioneer in the growing recovery advocacy movement of people telling their personal stories of recovery and speaking out about the power and hope of recovery. Her efforts to inform the public, the media and policymakers about medication-assisted recovery and the many pathways to recovery have broadened public and recovery community understanding about tailoring treatment and recovery support to an individual’s personal circumstances based on their direction and desires.
People who have never thought about medication-assisted treatment or held negative feelings about it have gained a new understanding and appreciation because of Lisa’s advocacy. She has worked tirelessly to bring the recovery community together, serving as a bridge between the medication-assisted recovery community, mutual-aid or self-help community, and others. As she wrote when she was the founding board chair of Faces & Voices of Recovery, “the more we learn about addiction, the advances of science, the full range of treatments and the variety of paths leading to recovery, the better prepared we will be to choose our own path. Join us in celebrating all recovery roads.”
As a citizen advocate, she has translated her professional and personal experiences into public policy recommendations and advocacy on behalf of those recommendations. In numerous forums such as the Institute of Medicine’s Crossing the Quality Chasm to Mental Health and Addictive Disorders, she has used her own story and her family’s experiences to personify and make real the workings of these bodies. She has testified before Congress, marched in Recovery Walks in her home state of New Jersey and in New York City and been recognized for her leadership in educating the public about addiction treatment, recovery and research as the first-ever recipient of the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Public Service Award. Her donations of time, talent and energy have been significant and are continuing. Lisa is also the proud parent of two boys.
Lisa is the Consumer & Recovery Advocate for New Jersey’s Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Addiction Services. She works to bring the voices of people receiving services into all aspects of the Division’s activities including identifying and overcoming stigma and discrimination that they face as they seek and use services. She helped establish and chairs the first Citizens’ Advisory Council to formally bring the perspective and experiences of consumers as the Division’s development of a recovery-oriented system of care.
Lisa is a sought-after presenter, trainer and author on local, state and national practices and policies affecting people seeking recovery, with a special focus on the rights of individuals seeking recovery and medication-assisted recovery. She has developed and presents trainings to professionals in the work force and the public that integrate her personal experiences and story with the need for transformation to systems of care that are centered on the rights and needs of individuals seeking care. She serves on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Maintenance in the Addictions (Innovations in Research, Theory and Practice).
Lisa also has a private law practice specializing in civil rights law for persons in long-term recovery from addiction where she has represented over 100 patients, primarily in methadone maintenance therapy, many of whom have experienced employment-related discrimination.
- Pat Taylor