Addiction is everywhere. Shouldn’t recovery be, too? This is a question that many experts ask when they are looking for new solutions to the addiction crisis. Solutions, of course, come with a stigma that relies on the shame of the disease of addiction. Some communities are hesitant to host facilities that can help those very same communities heal.
Old Stigma, New Excuses
Some of this stigma is unavoidable and has been part of the public narrative of addiction since street drugs first took hold here in the US. But it’s not these old stereotypes of “addicts” and “junkies” that are hurting people who want to get and stay clean the most. In many communities, there few people untouched by the pain of addiction. Neighbors, family members, and friends have become addicted in the past few years.
The new stigma comes from the facilities, themselves, and the bad apples that make the news. In recent years, there have been countless stories in the past year of “bad” recovery homes committing fraud, pill mills getting shut down, and even treatment programs being run by people who are not only ex-felons, but often either in active addiction themselves or simply being unopposed to their clients continuing to use drugs. For many people whose “occupation” typically involves being a conman or woman, the industry of addiction and recovery is quite lucrative.
How Stigma Hurts Recovery Within Communities
In communities hardest hit by the addiction epidemic, it seems intuitive that new recovery center, sober homes, and other facilities start to host services within the community itself. But time and time again, there are reservations about the services and the people who will be treated there. Just last August, Costa Mesa, California rejected 4 permits for sober-living homes saying the “intensity of the use is too high.” Yet opioid use increased by 141% in Orange County between 2005 to 2015, with large numbers of patients coming from Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa, Anaheim and Santa Ana. The council saw no acceptable alternatives for helping people new to recovery find housing.
Ultimately, it is the person with a substance abuse disorder, their family members and their loved ones who suffer. With few regulations on treatment centers and recovery housing, wary neighbors tend to fight when a facility is opened in their backyard.
Combatting Stigma in Communities
When there is resistance in a community against new treatment centers or recovery housing, sometimes the centers have to get creative. In Ohio, where the addiction crisis is bad enough that there is one overdose for every five Ohioans daily, residents are hesitant to allow facilities to put down roots. This is why in Huber Heights, where property crime and other low-level crimes are 25% higher than the national average, a treatment center recently held an open house to introduce their community to the Applegate Recovery program. Reaching in people in need, the owner of the center told reporters, is the ultimate goal.
In Pennsylvania, Penn State’s Justice Center for Research, in partnership with the Independence Blue Cross Foundation, also recently launched a multimedia public awareness campaign to share stories of addiction and recovery, hoping to reduce the shame (and shaming) often associated with opioid abuse.
Stronger regulations for service providers in the addiction and recovery industry also play a part in combatting stigma by putting bad providers and seedy housing out of commission. In Palm Beach County, Florida, stronger regulations and a sober home task force were created to help combat the accusations of fraud and crime specifically taking place in the recovery communities. Knowing that the people and the facilities are safe, inspected regularly, and held accountable also puts a lot of minds at ease in communities.
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