The only way to stop the growing opioid crisis is to work together to provide short-term crisis care and then continue to support long-term recovery communities.
TODAY, more than 142 Americans will fatally overdose on drugs; a majority will overdose on opioids. The epidemic is tearing its way through American families, neighborhoods and cities from the East Coast to the West Coast. More than 59,000 people in the U.S. died from drug overdoses in 2016 — a 19 percent increase from 2015 — making drug overdoses a leading cause of death for Americans under 50.
With these staggering statistics, the recent White House news conference was long overdue. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price and Kellyanne Conway finally publicly addressed America’s raging drug problem. Conway stated, “This is not a problem of young or old, of black or white, of rural, urban or suburban … It is also a nonpartisan issue in search of bipartisan support and bipartisan solutions.”
In Seattle, we struggle to combat homelessness and opioid-addiction crises. This summer, the All Home 2017 Count On Us survey recorded 11,643 people experiencing homelessness in King County, with 70 percent residing in Seattle. Close to half of survey respondents reported that they experience psychiatric or emotional conditions. Over a third reported drug or alcohol abuse, and another third live with post-traumatic stress disorder.
As a country, we cannot discount the importance of mental and emotional health in our national discussion on the opioid epidemic, health-care reform and the overall well-being of our communities. Recovery Café is invested in this conversation and action because we believe everyone has the right to be healthy, loved and part of a supportive community — including people dealing with addiction.
To effectively serve people who have been traumatized by addiction, homelessness and other mental-health challenges, Recovery Café in South Lake Union builds communities that surround and support members in a safe environment. Our model is rooted in peer-based support, which allows members to learn from each other as they seek stability and lifelong recovery.
According to the National Institutes of Health, at least two years of recovery support is necessary to maintain long-term recovery. And yet, most of the systems in place only provide assistance during times of crisis, which sets the stage for relapse. For example, homeless and low-income men and women with mental-health challenges often stop taking, or lose access to, medication. This can then trigger a relapse, which then impacts their ability to gain access to and maintain housing, employment and health-care services. Without sustained and continuous recovery support, accessing existing housing and social services can often seem impossible. Thirty- to 90-day treatment programs are helpful during a person’s moment of crisis, but too often these programs cannot provide the long-term supportive environment needed to recover.
For the last 15 years, Recovery Café has built and is continuing to build these recovery, peer-based communities where each person comes to know his or her self-worth and dignity. Our peer-based approach has allowed more than 1,500 members to travel down the path of lifelong recovery. The only way to stop the growing opioid crisis is to work together to provide short-term crisis care and then continue to support long-term recovery communities.
Declaring the opioid epidemic a national state of emergency is a necessary step to help end the opioid epidemic. Without the federal-government funding for recovery programs and mental-health care, we have a steep hill to climb and more work to do. We can only hope that our country, government and local communities will come together to foster long-term solutions to this deadly crisis. It is truly a nonpartisan issue that needs both sides to reach for solutions.