photo: 2013 Philadelphia Recovery Walk, copied from William White’s website (link below)
In 2001, William White, preeminent addiction and recovery researcher and scholar, wrote about the New Recovery Advocacy Movement. The old Recovery Advocacy Movement was, ironically, started by one of the best-known women in Alcoholics Anonymous, Marty Mann. Ms. Mann chose to go public, and her advocacy efforts culminated in a U.S. Senate Special Sub-committee on Alcoholism and Narcotics. The hearings were chaired by the publicly recovering Senator Harold Hughes and featured testimony by Ms. Mann as well as Bill Wilson of Alcoholics Anonymous. (several other public figures in recovery declined to testify, as anonymity was the established norm) Recovery was brought out into the light, and modern public policy began to form around these ideas. These events led to the passing of the Comprehensive Act, the formation of NIDA in 1974, and most importantly, the concept of addiction as a disease, both in the medical field and in public perception. These events also laid the groundwork for the dominance of the 12-step model in addiction treatment that continues today.
Much of this progress was arrested when President Nixon coined the phrase “War on Drugs” in 1971. This conservative policy collided with the social revolution and drug culture of the late 1960s and the prevalence of addiction among returning Vietnam veterans, and began a renewed period of social stigma and increased criminalization. In the 1980s, the news media sensationalized the crack epidemic and mandatory minimum drug sentences were enshrined into the nation’s penal code. This resulted in the United States imprisoning more of its population than any other first-world nation. The rise of social stigma negatively affected public policy, taking us in the opposite direction of the movement that had begun in the middle of the century. This, in turn, has impacted funding available for research and treatment for those who need help.
In June 2011, the Global Commission on Drug Policy declared that “The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world. Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and years after President Nixon launched the US government’s war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed.” The Obama administration and NIDA are now endeavoring to implement policies that strengthen community-based drug prevention efforts, empower healthcare workers to detect early signs of abuse and expand access, and reduce the stigma of drug treatment.
Currently, addiction is at epidemic proportions, and public policy has only begun to shift away from the failed policies of the War on Drugs. A new, public advocacy movement is afoot, bringing recovery out of the shadows and expanding the paradigm. People in recovery from all walks of life are again speaking openly, and positive messages are beginning to rival negative media portrayals. The struggle for better funding, research, public policy and treatment is still ongoing.
During the AIDS epidemic, when fear and stigmatization inhibited funding and public policy, people took to the streets to raise awareness and demand action. The battle cry was, “Silence = Death”. As education and awareness about HIV/AIDS increased, the fear and stigma decreased, and as a result, treatment of this life-threatening disease has improved greatly. The fight for awareness of addiction and support for recovery is no less serious, and the cost of fear and ignorance is just as human.
*for a timeline of the Chronology of the Recovery Advocacy Movement, click here