Recovery Month: A time for help, hope

There are approximately 22 million individuals in recovery from substance use disorder (SUD) in America. These individuals are our family members, neighbors, and coworkers. They are comprised of all socioeconomic classes, races, and gender. For each of us, the word recovery can mean different things but for those 22 million individuals in recovery from SUD, it is the empowering moment when they can live, work and fully participate in their communities.

Each September, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration recognizes the efforts of these resilient individuals in National Recovery Month. It is a special time to celebrate the achievements of people, spread the encouraging message that treatment works, and ultimately break the stigma associated with SUD.

This year, we celebrate the 30th anniversary of Recovery Month with the theme, “Join the Voices for Recovery: Together We are Stronger.” This year’s theme touches on a key component for individuals in treatment and recovery — a strong community. All Pennsylvanians have an obligation to come together, as a community, to break stigma associated with this disease.

The Wolf Administration has made significant strides in combatting substance use including Governor Tom Wolf’s now seventh Disaster Declaration to bring together state agencies in supporting the opioid epidemic, launching a 24 hour a day/7 day a week helpline at 1-800-662-HELP, implementing warm hand-off protocols in every county, funneling an unprecedented amount of federal funding to communities throughout Pennsylvania, and distributing thousands of free naloxone kits during our Get Help Now: Stop Overdoses in PA Week.

Our ultimate vision is for all Pennsylvanians to live free from addiction, and we realize that there is still work to be done. During the Wolf Administration’s second term, the department will be focused on many initiatives geared specifically to sustained recovery. Examples of this work include creating recovery-friendly business networks to increase job opportunities for individuals in recovery, opening additional recovery schools for youth across the commonwealth, and establishing sustainable funding and support for grassroots recovery organizations.

As a community, we have an obligation to come together and support individuals through their journey to recovery. Today, we are at a critical crossroads in battling substance use. As Pennsylvanians, we need to do our part in combatting stigma associated with the disease.

Throughout the month of September, there are many Recovery Month events scheduled in communities across the commonwealth. The administration will be participating in the month-long celebration by hosting two free naloxone distribution days Sept. 18 and 25. I encourage all Pennsylvanians to not only get naloxone, but to attend a local community recovery celebration. Family, friends, and peers are an essential support network for an individual in recovery. All of us have a responsibility to be that support system for our loved ones and it starts with recognizing addiction as a disease — not a moral failing.

We must continue to spread the message that treatment works, and recovery is possible. We must support our neighbors and celebrate their accomplishments. It is only when we break down the stigma that others will feel empowered to ask for help, and communities throughout Pennsylvania will be healthier for generations to come.

Jennifer Smith is secretary of the state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs.