Informing and Empowering the Recovery Collective
Shared purpose: ending the stigma and saving lives
In our collective pursuit, the one common goal that unites persons in recovery and Recovery Community Organizations (RCOs) is the desire to promote long-term recovery and prevent deaths caused by fatal drug poisoning. The word “overdose” carries a stigmatized perception – often pointing fingers at the users themselves. However, it is important to recognize that many of those who have tragically lost their lives merely sought to experiment with substances and unknowingly encountered a lethal dose of fentanyl. “We are all gathered around the idea that we want to ease human suffering, right?” Faces & Voices of Recovery Chief Operating Officer Phillip Rutherford observed. “We obviously want people to stop dying of fatal drug poisoning, but we also want people to stop suffering from substance use disorder. In order to adequately advocate, it’s necessary that we create more robust services.”
Addressing the funding disparities
Overall healthcare spending amounts to trillions of dollars, and the budget allocated to mental health and substance use disorder remains in the double-digit billions, suggesting a lack of serious commitment to treating these conditions. “Obviously, we’re grateful for whatever we get, but that doesn’t mean that it’s enough,” Rutherford pointed out. “Recovery support has been underfunded since its inception and continues to be underfunded to date. A lot of the work that I do is around trying to support programs and services and acquiring funding specifically for recovery support. We need more voices in our alliance. That’s why I refer to it as the big tent.”
Expanding the big tent: amplifying voices
By fostering a “big tent” approach, Faces & Voices of Recovery can ensure that diverse perspectives and experiences are represented. “I think there’s plenty of goodwill around substance use disorder. It’s just not always top of mind,” Rutherford noted. “We don’t all have to agree on the specifics, but we can say that the lack of health equity around substance use disorder and around behavioral health in general is a problem. The bigger tent is about collecting those voices and scaling them to make it more difficult for policymakers to ignore us.”
Substance use disorder may not be at the top of policymakers’ priority lists, as they face numerous pressing issues. However, Rutherford asserts that by uniting and collectively raising awareness, Faces & Voices of Recovery can advocate for the necessary attention, funding, and policy changes to address the challenges faced by individuals and communities affected by addiction.
I am a Face & Voice of Recovery
Philip Rutherford, Faces & Voices Chief Operating Officer
I had what I’d call a garden variety substance use disorder, followed by the things that go along with a garden variety substance use disorder. I found recovery as a direct result of culturally responsive support. At Faces & Voices of Recovery, we are very interested in culturally responsive care for people. When I say culture, I mean everything: race, gender identity, every facet of a person’s culture – which is more than race. I went in and out of a number of different treatment environments. And I liked them so much I went back a few times. I did not find long term recovery until I connected with someone that looked like me and could mirror my own personal experience in substance use disorder and in recovery. That’s what made the difference for me. I am not unique. That’s what I mean by garden variety substance use disorder.
I think the interesting part of my story is actually the professional side. I got involved with Faces & Voices based on wanting to collect data around people coming in and out of recovery support services. Shortly after the Surgeon General published the first-ever report on substance use disorder, I was at a meeting with someone from the Office of National Drug Control Policy. I was very interested in what the report had to say. And I went up to the Surgeon General after that meeting and said, “Hey, this is all great, but where’s the information on recovery community organizations and recovery support?”
He said, “Well, we understand that it’s out there, but we have no data.” That offended me because, first of all, I knew that there was data out there – probably locked in spreadsheets and documents somewhere. But certainly, there wasn’t any kind of collected, housed, validated data that talked about recovery support services. And here’s the thing: my personal recovery journey was directly related to peer support. I have personal lived experience and a whole community of people that tell me peer support is working. I saw it all around me, yet there was no collective federal response at that time. Now the situation is much better, but at that time there really wasn’t anything available. The argument was that we don’t have any data. I made up my mind that I was going to help with the data. And that’s how I got connected with Faces & Voices. That’s what started the RDP Recovery Data Platform. I think, to this day, we still curate the largest stand-alone set of recovery support data on the planet.
Equity in recovery: bridging the gap
“What we found in the data was that specifically Black organizations were much more likely to have an adjunct clinical service because that’s where the money came from to drive the (RCO),” Rutherford said. “Many of the organizations that were there, were grant driven.” Recognizing this disparity, Rutherford explained that efforts are being made to bring equity into the recovery space, ensuring that marginalized communities receive equitable access to comprehensive care and support. “Terms like marginalized and underserved are flowery terms for people that have experienced oppression,” Rutherford explained. “For oppressed people, that dynamic was absolutely present in the recovery space. We’ve taken some intentional steps to address that and make some changes there.”
A recovery-oriented system of care
“One of the things that we talk about a lot, and I would like to see, is a recovery-oriented system of care, which is really an ecosystem of recovery supports where they’re interconnected,” Rutherford offered. This system acknowledges the role of various stakeholders, including recovery organizations, the criminal legal system, social services, education, and other public health entities. For individuals caught in a cycle of substance-related offenses, it is crucial for the legal system to recognize the potential for successful outcomes through treatment and recovery support rather than punitive measures alone. Rutherford explained how this could work: “Not only is there a recovery organization, but there’s also a criminal legal system that recognizes that if you have someone that continuously gets picked up for possession or continuously gets DUIs, that person might be a better fit for treatment or for recovery support.”
A recovery-oriented system of care is a solution that addresses addiction as a disease. And Rutherford asserts that by working collaboratively, we can transform the way substance use is addressed, emphasizing compassion, support, and rehabilitation. “My aspirational goal is to see a recovery-focused organization in every community. In most communities you can find an emergency room,” Rutherford said. “I’d like people to be able to find a recovery support center where someone can get immediate emergent recovery support on a local level.”
Faces & Voices of Recovery was founded by a group of recovery advocacy pioneers who believed in a world where the shame and stigma of addiction no longer exists. They believed in a world where a lifetime of recovery and wellness was within everyone’s reach. This vision is the cornerstone of the work we do every day.
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