Resetting state view on helping those with substance abuse

In opioid epidemic, lawmaker wants recovery to be on the same pedestal as treatment and prevention.

  • Wednesday, March 13, 2019 8:30am
  • Opinion

OLYMPIA — There is no political vaccine for the opioid epidemic, no swift legislative means to free thousands of people of the weight of their substance abuse.

There’s prevention, until it doesn’t work, then treatment, and, if all goes well, recovery.

In recent years, state lawmakers have put more of their focus and taxpayer dollars into the first two elements.

That may change this session.

Three bills which collectively would shine a brighter light on the value of recovery services cleared the state House without a single vote of opposition. As each came up on the House floor, Democratic and Republican members rose to speak of their experiences in recovery and those of their nieces, nephews, and siblings.

Democratic Rep. Lauren Davis of Shoreline, a new legislator whose life’s work is with those striving to lead lives free of substance abuse, authored all three. And she wasn’t at all surprised at what she heard.

Recovery happens not in treatment but in the community, said Davis, who is founder and executive director of the Washington Recovery Alliance. The state needs to treat it as a priority on a par with treatment and prevention, she said.

Unanimous passage of the bills, she said, “demonstrates Washington believes in recovery and we’re committing to it.”

They approach it from three directions.

House Bill 1768 would put a definition of recovery into state law for the first time.

It would be defined as “a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives, and strive to reach their full potential. Recovery often involves achieving remission.”

This definition may not seem like much but it can, over time, become a big deal.

Lawmakers will be more comfortable putting funding toward programs if there is a definition for recovery. It’s how it works. They define a small class size before providing money to shrink them. They define a crime before setting the punishment for those convicted of committing it. In the same vein, in time, the ability of organizations to receive state dollars for recovery services could hinge on whether they will help bring about recovery as defined.

This bill and House Bill 1529 aim to make it less difficult for those in recovery to get a job in the field as a peer counselor or substance abuse disorder professional.

“We’ve got a workforce willing to work and we’re not letting them,” Davis said in an interview.

House Bill 1528 seeks to increase the quantity and improve the quality of housing for those in recovery.

It provides a degree of regulation by establishing a process for recovery residences to be certified by a nationally recognized group or an affiliate based in Washington. One such organization is the Washington Alliance for Quality Recovery Residences.

The bill also creates a registry of certified residences. And starting Jan. 1, 2023, licensed and certified treatment providers could refer clients in need of housing to sites on the registry.

Taken together, the bills would readjust the state’s approach.

“The low-hanging fruit and high potential of return on investment in addressing the opioid epidemic is helping people who are in early recovery remain in recovery long-term,” Davis said Monday on the House floor before the vote on House Bill 1528.

”It doesn’t take much to break a person in early recovery,” she said. “They can leave treatment and want recovery so badly … but if we discharge them from treatment homeless or if we discharge them to an unethical recovery home, it could break them.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos

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Don C. Brunell is a regional columnist.