SSB 6498 would provide legal protection to communications between an individual participating in an alcohol- or drug-addiction recovery fellowship and their sponsor.

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SADLY, too many Americans today struggle with the devastating consequences of addiction to drugs or alcohol. Addiction costs lives, tears apart families, and it has a substantial negative impact on our state and national economy.

Today, approximately one in six Americans suffers from addiction, and that number is rising. Last year 88,000 people died from alcohol-related causes — and if yesterday were a typical day, roughly 129 Americans died from a drug overdose. Chances are you have a co-worker or family member you know well who is, right now, struggling with some form of addiction.

While there are many factors that can lead a person to become addicted, we also know that there are a number of well-established ways to recover from it. Take it from me, a recovering alcoholic who has experienced first hand the processes, people and systems that contribute to one’s recovery.

While recovery isn’t easy, it is much more likely to be achieved through fellowship programs, sometimes called 12-step programs. There are a number of these fellowship programs, and millions of Americans have ended the cycle of addiction through them. They use a step-by-step approach to help an addict through a lifelong process of recovery. It’s not just about healing the body. It’s about healing the soul as well — getting the person to tackle the very demons from their past that may be causing them to drink or use in the first place.

The person trying to recover must lay it all on the table to another person, disclosing the most personal information about their problems and failures in an effort to put closure on these past wrongs. In many ways, it’s like any confession you would give to a priest or counselor.

Individuals in recovery feel most comfortable with people who have walked the same path: other alcoholics or addicts in recovery. Prominent in this model is often the use of “sponsors.” These are men and women who share their own experiences, strengths and hopes with others seeking recovery. They listen, encourage and sometimes push people to climb out of the depths of addiction. Sponsors are the real health-care providers for those seeking recovery.

It is widely accepted that alcoholism, for example, is a disease. But while communication to your doctor or priest is privileged under law, communications between a sponsor and sponsee in a recovery program are not. Tragically, lawyers seeking ammunition for character assassination in lawsuits and divorce proceedings regularly attempt to exploit this loophole through subpoenas, depositions and trial testimony. Such litigation practices have a chilling effect on those hoping to take the steps toward recovery.

It is in all of our interests to see as many successful cases of recovery as possible. But that won’t happen if addicts are afraid to share their demons with their sponsors. We need to ensure that sponsor and sponsee communication is better protected in Washington state law.

SSB 6498, which would apply to all noncriminal actions, would provide legal protection to communications between an individual participating in an alcohol- or drug-addiction recovery fellowship and their sponsor. The Senate has passed the bill unanimously with a 49-0 vote and it is now before the state House.

Let’s show compassion for those suffering from addiction by providing a safe harbor in law where they can find the refuge they need to recover.