“SMALL STEPS ARE THE WAY TO LONG-TERM CHANGE”: LARGEST STATE-WIDE RECOVERY EVENT OFFERED HOPE, EDUCATION & SUPPORT
Hundreds came together to honor those who support substance abuse recovery at New Jersey’s first state-wide “Celebrate Recovery” event at Asbury Park’s Paramount Theater.
“Substance abuse affects everyone in one way or another,” said Randy Thompson, organizer of the event held on Sept. 20 and Asbury Park resident. “We came together to educate and show that addiction is a medical issue and not a social disability. Just like diabetes, it takes time to heal and sometimes has setbacks and deserves more attention and resources. In both cases, behavioral changes have to be made to become healthy.”
Diabetes and drug addiction impact 10 percent of the population, according to Thompson. Effective and efficient ways to help those with addiction issues were vigorously discussed at the first state-wide event of its kind.
State Senator Raymond Lesniak (20th Legislative District) highlighted steps New Jersey is taking to support the many recovering from addiction, including reducing mandatory minimum prison sentences and the founding last year of the first Recovery High School on the Kean University campus in Union, New Jersey.
“Sometimes taking small legislative steps is the way to effect long-term change,” said Senator Lesniak, also a strong voice for GLBT equality.
Additional speakers were Patrick Roff the Recovery Advocate from the New Jersey Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services; Anne Wallace Light, Recovery Coach who was recently featured on MSNBC, and Domenick Bucci, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, who is a twenty year veteran from the New Jersey State Police Narcotics Bureau. May Wilkerson and Patrick Holbert, both of whom are in recovery and have learned to make others laugh by sharing their experiences performed the comedy act followed by Kathy Moser an award-winning musician.
Noting that recovery does not always move in a consistently forward trajectory, many speakers reiterated non-violent offenders should be viewed differently in the eyes of the law. The event’s speakers were also able to offer a range of perspectives in support of recovery including recognizing that treatment can be a critical part of recovery, but is not appropriate for all persons with SUDs. Speakers shed light on many missing recovery support components including emphasizing the importance of supporting recovery through relapse, noting the harms of the failed War on Drugs which is drug prohibition, and the benefits of removing failed drug criminalization laws and regulation of illicit drug markets.
“Recovery is not always a straight line, sometimes a step back has to happen to ultimately take three steps forward,” said Thompson. “Having compassion for people working to help themselves is huge. Also, there are massive deficits in the recovery support system in New Jersey. Violent sanctions for non-violent offenders is a failure of the system and results in social disabilities that impact all of life’s domains. After treatment we, as a community, need to help find pathways to employment and housing for people with this disease.”
The Board of Monmouth County Freeholders also recognized “Celebrate Recovery” with a proclamation. In addition to the main program, attendees were offered free rapid HIV testing from the Visiting Nurses Association of Central Jersey and a free Narcan training from JSAS Healthcare, Inc.
“It was a really beautiful day,” said Thompson. “Attendees shared their stories and expressed their thanks. I was nervous going into it but the feedback was positive and very rewarding.”
Help Not Handcuffs is the campaign to decriminalize people who use substances, because criminalizing substances only criminalizes people. In doing so, volunteers advocate for a robust recovery support system across all of life’s domains to help those who want help, without arrest or coercion. More at HelpNotHandcuffs.org.