"We're going to make sure that every person struggling with addiction finds a path to recovery and that every person in recovery has a path to sustaining it." That is the ambitious goal put forth by Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of the federal Office of National Drug Control Policy, in his opening remarks at the 2023 White House Recovery Month Summit on Sept. 20.
Acknowledging the toll of the opioid epidemic, Gupta stressed that harm reduction and addiction treatment options must be bolstered. But this year, the White House also wanted to emphasize that giving people a chance at recovery requires "more than treatment. It's about having safe and supportive communities to live in. It's about childcare, transportation, food security, education, employment and so much more," said Gupta.
Over the next two hours, diverse speakers took the stage to shed light on how they're working toward realizing this 360-degree vision of recovery.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Rep. Paul Tonko of New York discussed some progress that has been made — and work yet to be done — in Congress and local governments. "What we need at the federal, state and local levels in terms of support for recovery services and for treatment is flexibility," said Shaheen. "Flexibility to meet the needs of patients, to meet the needs of communities and to address the evolving crisis."
Two panels highlighted groundbreaking projects in workplace- and school-supported recovery programs. The first featured administrators and students of Chesterfield Recovery Academy, a new "recovery high school" in central Virginia. Zakiya Kearney, a student, described how the environment helped her change her perspective on her future. "When I went to regular school, I had no aspirations, no desires, no nothing," she said. "But when I came to the school I'm at now — they actually care. They were helping me decide what I wanted to do." She now plans on attending law school after graduation.
The second panel, on recovery initiatives in the workplace, included Greg Ashlock, CEO of iHeartMedia and Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants union. Nelson, whose organization has rolled out a drug and alcohol assistance program, a wellness app for members and other resources, stressed the importance in the workplace of "talk[ing] about recovery and addiction in a way that is about problem-solving and lifting people up rather than shame and hiding these issues."
Nelson also mentioned the fitting tagline for the flight attendant recovery program, which could double as an aim for recovery nationwide: "Recovery is not a hard landing. It's a journey."
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