Enhancing Efforts of Those in Addiction Recovery, in U.S. and Abroad, to Help Themselves

3 minutes read time
Discarded syringes lay near near train tracks
Discarded syringes lay near near train tracks.

Enhancing Efforts of Those in Addiction Recovery, in U.S. and Abroad, to Help Themselves

As we’ve seen with Alcoholics Anonymous and other similar initiatives, individuals in recovery from substance abuse can be extremely effective in helping current users fight addiction. Individuals with first-hand experience with drug addiction convey a sense of hope to those struggling with recovery, in a way that those without such experience cannot. In the context of our country’s opioid crisis, recovering users are powerful potential allies in a comprehensive approach to drugs.   

However, many of these “recovery coaches,” while well-intentioned, are often ill-equipped to handle the difficulties of sustained recovery and put themselves at risk for relapse. To improve the effectiveness of the support that coaches give to recovering users, the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) will develop a new course entitled Recovery Support Services under the framework of a proposed Universal Recovery Curriculum (URC).

Painkiller pills are shown at a pharmacy.

Originally proposed as part of INL’s well-established Universal Treatment Curriculum (UTC), experts maintained the need for the approach to recovery to be separate from treatment. Discussions juxtaposing treatment and recovery, while admittedly related, revealed divisions among those who work in the respective fields. Treatment, for example, is talked about in terms of pathology (what’s wrong with the individual) whereas recovery support is framed in strength-based terms (recovery capital -- identifying what the person has going for them that will assist them in their attempt to stay away from drugs). Thus was born the Universal Recovery Curriculum (URC) -- a separate product, used to fight addiction around the world, to support sustainable, long-term recovery approaches.

The precarious situations that many in recovery encounter (i.e., heightened vulnerability to relapse, homelessness, interaction with criminal justice system, etc.) prompted INL to focus on furnishing this group with tools to succeed. The ultimate goal is to produce a course for drug treatment providers which incorporates lesson plans, case studies, and training materials, is based on proven approaches and techniques, and is culturally neutral so that it can be used worldwide. To this end, on August 7-8, INL convened 12 experts in substance use recovery to gather at the State Department for an Expert Working Group. Notably, the group comprised longstanding international partners for INL’s overseas demand reduction programs, such as the Organization of American States and Colombo Plan, as well as U.S. government entities facing down our opioid epidemic, like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). For two days, experts reviewed readily-available materials and deliberated over “must-be-included” topics for the proposed course.

The Working Group produced an outline for a course, which will be finalized by a curriculum developer and peer reviewed by experts in the treatment and recovery field, to be disseminated in early 2018. The proposed curriculum points to self-care, problem-solving, community resource development, ethics, and boundaries, among other concepts, as key pillars to sustainable recovery. This tool will equip substance use professionals abroad with hands-on, practical and science-based recovery methods via a new training module. It will also be available for U.S. towns and communities struggling with opioids.

About the Author: Jullion Cooper serves a Foreign Service Officer in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs' Drug Demand Reduction team.

Editor’s Note: This entry is also published on Medium.com/StateDept.