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Guest Post: What We Must Do About Addiction

In honor of Recovery Month, we have a guest post from Kevin Kirby, CEO and Co-Founder of the South Dakota-based non-profit "Face it TOGETHER."

Note: This is a guest blog post from Kevin Kirby, the CEO and Co-Founder of Face It TOGETHER, a non-profit organization in South Dakota focused on recovery from addiction.

Every September, the ONDCP partners with SAMHSA and a range of public and private sector organizations to celebrate National Recovery Month. I commend the ONDCP for highlighting recovery, and characterizing it as “health, wellness, a sense of purpose, and productive involvement with family and community.” Only through whole society transformation can we break through stigma and achieve a real solution to addiction.

It’s true that stigma gets in the way of recovery for far too many Americans. I had no idea what my problem was for a long time. Outwardly, I had it all:  a successful business, a wife of 25 years and respect in my community. But inside, I was dying a slow death. I recall vividly the fear when I realized the root of my problems might be alcoholism.

We need to fundamentally change the way we treat this disease. Medicine has long recognized addiction as a treatable, chronic disease, not unlike diabetes or hypertension. Yet almost everywhere, addiction is treated like an acute health crisis. Real solutions must focus on helping communities understand and treat addiction the same as any other chronic disease.

This would mean awareness programs that are not moralistic but teach people of all ages that addiction is a disease. No fear of reprisal at work so people are motivated to get help at the earliest problem. Services embedded throughout the community to make it easier to enter and sustain long-term recovery. And an insurance reimbursement system supporting chronic care approaches to the disease. This would bring long-term benefits through reduced public health and safety problems and increased economic productivity.

This vision is coming to life in my hometown of Sioux Falls, S.D. All sectors – public and private – united three years ago to create “Face It TOGETHER®,” a nonprofit recovery community organization charged with advancing systemic solutions that defy traditional thinking about this disease. Twenty-two of the city’s largest employers have worked together to bring recovery education and peer support services directly into the workplace through chronic disease management programs, reaching one-third of the community’s workforce. The nonprofit’s work is financed by delivering defined value propositions to the private sector in exchange for sustainable funding streams. We plan to rollout the model to communities willing to embrace a new, cross-sector approach to addiction recovery.

Friends, family, communities are all part of recovery.  But the complete solution is in transforming our society.  If we stand together and demand real change, anything is possible.

Kevin Kirby, CEO and Co-Founder of Face It TOGETHER®, Sioux Falls, South Dakota