Recovery from Addiction is Possible: Honoring National Recovery Month

16340827 diverse group of peopleBy Sheri Lawal, MPH, CHES, Program Analyst, NACCHO

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), recovery is “a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives, and strive to reach their full potential.” This September marks the 26th annual National Recovery Month, which highlights the message that recovery is possible and encourages action to help expand and improve the availability of effective prevention, treatment, and recovery services for those in need.

The 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that 4.5 million individuals in the United States were current non-medical users of prescription opioids and 289,000 were current users of heroin; however, fewer than 1 million people who need treatment are receiving it. Currently, physicians must be certified to prescribe buprenorphine, a medication used in treating opioid addiction; certified physicians are allowed to prescribe up to 30 patients initially and must request authorization after one year to prescribe up to a maximum of 100 patients. This cap limits treatment and hinders the recovery of those with opioid use disorders.

Last week, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell announced that the agency would rewrite regulations related to the prescribing of buprenorphine to treat opioid addiction. Buprenorphine is often used in medication-assisted treatment (MAT) of opioid addiction, which supports those with opioid use disorders manage their addiction by reducing problematic addiction behaviors (e.g., drug-induced highs and lows, thinking about the drug all the time). MAT, along with psychosocial treatment and support from family and friends, is the best line of defense to treating opioid addiction. Secretary Burwell’s announcement to lift patient caps is a leap forward in the treatment of opioid use disorders.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) defines addiction as “a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry… that leads to an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.” Oftentimes, those with substance use disorders are thought to lack willpower and self-control. This is simply not true; addiction is a chronic disease that causes changes in the brain. Reducing stigma around addiction can pave the way to evidence-based treatment and recovery. As National Recovery Month comes to an end, NACCHO encourages local health departments across the nation to educate stakeholders, decision-makers, and the general public that recovery from addiction is possible.

The following resources can help local health departments learn more about recovery from addiction:

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