BANGOR — While the public is well acquainted with the stereotypes of addiction — broken homes, devastated families, unemployment, public drunkenness, domestic violence and other crimes — the face of addiction recovery is largely invisible.
That’s because the millions of people in successful recovery “disappear back into the community and are unrecognizable,” according to Brent Scobie, administrator of substance abuse services at The Acadia Hospital in Bangor. “The people who are visible are not the success stories,” he said.
Scobie was one of several presenters at a daylong conference on Thursday organized by the Bangor Area Recovery Community Coalition, a regional group of treatment providers, government agencies and other organizations, as well as individuals in recovery. The conference, titled “Broadening the Base for Recovery,” sought to open a dialogue about the different ways in which people enter and succeed in recovery and the need to challenge public misperceptions about the recovery process.
“Many of us have taken different paths to recovery,” said organizer Shawn Yardley, director of the city of Bangor’s Department of Health and Community Services, speaking to about 175 conference participants. While individuals may feel strongly about “the right way” vs. “the wrong way” to achieve sobriety or give up drug abuse, Yardley said, it’s important for communities to embrace all pathways to recovery and make it easier for people with addictions to get the help they need.
Keynote speaker Steven Rowe, Maine’s Attorney General, told the audience that when accounts of drug-related crimes, antisocial behaviors and personal tragedies are reported by the news media, “these stereotypes only fuel unfounded fears about addicts and clouds our thinking about providing additional treatment in our communities.”
Rowe said substance abuse and addiction costs Maine taxpayers approximately $900 million a year in treatment, law enforcement, corrections, unemployment benefits, medical care, education and other expenses. Yet the state spends only about $25 million a year on prevention, early intervention and treatment, he said.
“We’ve got our priorities really wrong,” he said. “We wait until people are at rock bottom before we offer them a lifeline.”
Instead, Rowe said, the state should expand early substance abuse screening and education.
A primary goal of the summit was to encourage people to inspire support for treatment and recovery programs by identifying themselves as being in recovery. Debbie Dettor of the Maine Alliance for Addiction Recovery told the crowd she had been free of drugs and alcohol since 1985.
“But there are thousands of people behind me you will never hear from” whose successful recovery from addiction allows them to rebuild productive lives and “disappear” into their communities, she said.
“People are fearful,” Dettor said. Jobs, relationships, insurance coverage and social standing can all be affected if they reveal their status. “Stigma is alive and well,” she said, but if more individuals were willing to be identified, public reaction would change to one of support and encouragement.
Increased visibility also would allow individuals and groups to become politically active in advocating for programs and policies that support treatment and recovery, said Dettor, who like many at the event, wore a lapel button that read “I’m in recovery and I vote.”
Twelve-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous have long-standing traditions of anonymity, both to protect the identity of their members and to maintain the integrity of the programs despite personal relapses. Dettor said a growing national movement to identify “the faces and voices of recovery” need not violate that tradition, but acknowledged that many 12-step adherents have a fundamental opposition to discussing their experiences with nonmembers.
Those attending the event included professionals working in the field of substance abuse treatment and prevention as well as people in recovery from addiction. Many fit in both categories. Bangor resident Patricia Hickey, who serves on an advisory panel to the Maine Office of Substance Abuse and the office of Gov. John Baldacci, said she has been in recovery from alcoholism for 20 years.
Hickey’s family has been tragically affected by the recent surge in addiction to prescription painkillers among teenagers.
Hickey said she was disappointed not to see representatives from area public schools at the conference. “The state needs to establish a safe way for schoolchildren to self-report their drug use or report on others who are in danger,” she said.
Robert Brewer of Brewer said he used a long-term drug treatment program in another state to ditch his addiction to opiates and methamphetamine. While he didn’t need methadone or other medications to support his recovery, “some people may need to,” he said. Brewer said he hopes to correct public “misinformation” about treatment options and promote acceptance of all pathways to recovery.
For more information about substance abuse prevention and treatment, visit the Maine Office of Substance Abuse online: http://maine.gov/dhhs/osa