This month we recognize National Recovery Month and celebrate everyone who is in recovery however they define that to be. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines recovery as “a process of change through which people improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives, and strive to reach their full potential.” Just as every person is different, we recognize that recovery can look different for every person. In the upcoming months, the Opioid Settlement funds from lawsuits settled with Johnson & Johnson, McKesson, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen will be coming into our state. We are calling upon the North Carolina General Assembly and cities and counties tasked with the distribution of these funds to commit to spending their portion of the settlement on measures that will expand evidence-based recovery support services. These services include but are not limited to: syringe access programs, housing, and medication-assisted treatment (MAT). We also call upon these decision-makers to ensure that people with lived experience have a leadership role in the discussions and implementation.
Syringe exchange programs were legalized by Governor Pat McCrory in 2016. They are proven to save lives by reducing overdose deaths, preventing contracting and/or spreading blood-borne diseases such as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C, and connecting people to essential medical care and treatment. The Center for Disease Control has found that people who participate in syringe exchange programs are five times more likely to enter into an abstinence-based treatment program. In addition, syringe exchange program staff are able to make referrals for housing, medication-assisted treatment, and other resources that can assist people struggling with substance use disorder in their personal journey toward recovery.
Medication assistance treatment is another proven method in helping people reach their recovery goals. Methadone and buprenorphine are the gold standards of evidence-based drug treatments. There is often trouble accessing these proven treatments because they are either not covered by insurance or not readily available in local communities. Data from the Department of Health and Human Services shows that 89% of North Carolinians are not able to access the treatment they need. In particular, people released from jail are 40 times more likely to die of an overdose within the first two weeks post-release than the general public. Local leaders should expand access to methadone and buprenorphine by offering them in jails as well as through mobile programs.
Last year we lost over 93,000 people in our country to preventable overdose deaths, and over 3000 people here in North Carolina We as people of faith believe that everyone is made in God’s image. Everyone deserves the chance to recover and to reach their full potential. In honor of National Recovery Month, we must commit to investing in expanded recovery options that are as diverse as the people across our state.