Every September, we celebrate National Recovery Month, and this year is no different. This September marks the 32nd annual observation of Recovery Month, a tradition that began in 1989 when the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration first recognized and named the event. But never have we observed a National Recovery Month with as much carnage behind it and a pandemic as the backdrop.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it the deadliest year in American history. So, naturally, it was chaos. Everyone in the country was affected by the coronavirus somehow, even if they didn’t become ill themselves. The pandemic brought unprecedented disruption to many people’s lives in many ways, and it took a particularly massive toll on those who struggle with substance use disorder. The COVID-19 pandemic only worsened the already-existing drug epidemic that America was facing, leading to the most drug overdose deaths our country has ever seen. In 2020, more than 93,000 people died from drug overdoses alone.
After such a year, National Recovery Month is a more somber occasion than one would traditionally see. Even the President chose to use the occasion to address the nation about the severity of the current addiction crisis.
His address begins by acknowledging the devastating impact the pandemic has had on the drug epidemic, a crisis that was already out of control. Each year, Recovery Month has a different theme.
This year, the President spoke of its theme “Recovery is For Everyone: Every Person, Every Family, Every Community” by highlighting the disparity between races regarding addiction and recovery. Particularly the gap that lingers between “people of color and their white neighbors.” People of color is a term assumed to mean anyone who isn’t Caucasian, including all racial minority groups in America.
The President’s address also highlighted funding from his American Rescue Plan, which delivered nearly $4 billion to strengthen and expand mental health and substance abuse disorder services throughout the country.
There’s a message of hope in the President’s address. The sheer fact that he took the time to acknowledge and emphasize the seriousness of the issue bolsters confidence that we may soon see an improvement in the country’s raging drug epidemic. But while treatment services are essential, and we do need more, it’s addressing the result and not the cause.
People benefit from recovery services only after being affected by addiction. Harm reduction services like needle exchange sites and medication maintenance therapy play an important role in saving lives but wouldn’t be needed if treatment was more effective. And treatment wouldn’t be needed if substance abuse prevention worked to discourage drug use. But we’ve seen a dwindling of prevention efforts and more emphasis on handling the fallout of addiction.
Let’s try things differently for a change since what we’ve been doing clearly hasn’t worked. With the nation’s attention and the President’s backing, there’s no better time to reassess our approach to this battle.
Michael Leach has spent most of his career as a health care professional specializing in substance use disorder and addiction recovery. He is a certified clinical medical assistant.