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Recovery or Rhetoric?

    The Government committed  to transforming drug treatment when it took office. The idea of their Putting Full Recovery First plans is to give drug addicts and offenders a second chance - to free them from their dependency. 

    Huseyin Djemil (CPS author of Inside Out - how to get drugs out of prisons) fears their recovery has already been hijacked.

    The Recovery rhetoric is reaching epidemic proportions! Service User representatives are adding Recovery Coordinator to their titles; Drug Workers are becoming Recovery Workers or Recovery Initiators; and the definition of what constitutes Recovery is getting ever wider, including those still in treatment and on substitute opiate medication.

    Soon, maybe active addicts, on illicit street drugs, will be defined as being in a Recovery if they attend an assessment. Who knows what will happen next?

    What then is a viable definition for Recovery?  Typing "Recovery" it into MSWord and engaging the dictionary function came up with the following:

    • A return to health
    • A return to a normal state, and 
    • The gaining back of something lost, or
    • In the process of recovering from an addiction or other destructive habit

    These are just dictionary definitions and I'm not one of the new wave of clever academic types running or developing the UK or Global Recovery Movement(s). I'm just someone that has been in Recovery since 1986. I entered rehab and stopped taking drugs and am still trying to hustle a living by remaining in the drugs field outside of taking or selling circles.

    Personally, I try not to buy into the polarized arguments that try to make Recovery exclusive. For instance ,I don't buy into the view that recovering addicts need to recover near their home location and show others the way to Recovery. We can do that wherever we are and it's not location dependent.  

    I can see why commissioners want to ensure that they keep those in Recovery nearby. They can then use them within a specific geographic location, because usually those that go to rehab (often out-of-area), who do well, will end up re-settling near the rehab. The only ones that go home are the ones that maybe didn't do so well. In fact, I have heard some commissioners coining the phrase, "we dont want to export success and import failure" (not my words)

    This, like the pseudo-academics and payment-by-results advocates adopting a Recovery rhetoric, highlights the treating of the addict as a commodity rather than a unique individual with choice. Choice to define their own Recovery, in their own way. 

    With this in mind, I don't care if your recovery is opiate free, nicotine free and/or alcohol free. I don't care whether it's a process that is moving toward this or has stopped at a particular point along the way.  I don't care if your recovery is near or in your home town or miles away from it. It's none of my business.

    And yet, the current Recovery Rhetoric being adopted by many professionals is more about engaging the addict as a commodity and exploiting them for personal or professional gain (get them on my committee, get them to start a recovery community or mutual aid group for tuppence, get me a payment by result etc).  We used to have a drug and alcohol sector that operated as a cottage industry; small, diverse, fiercely independent and successful (if a little dysfunctional from time to time - I must admit).

    However, the success generated by the cottage industry was highjacked and led to promises of greater social benefit if only investment could be forthcoming to scale up drug treatment, not least a reduction in crime.  Drug users were marshaled into treatment and the corporates gradually moved in.  Professional standards were developed and we saw minor league charities become major league players, some moving from a turnover of tens of thousands to tens of millions, literally over a few years.

    Drug treatment was something you used as a platform for getting better (Recovery) and it became an end in itself (a script for as long as you required it).  Drug users tip-toed between the dealer on the one hand and the state or state representative (NHS or Charity treatment provider) on the other.  As I said in my 2008 piece (Inside Out) "both wanting control and neither offering freedom".

    And here we are today, another twist and turn down the road and the new mantra from above is Recovery.  This is something I and many others advocated, at a time when advocating it meant getting shot down by the harm reductionists, and being labelled 'the new (and slightly mad) abstentionists'.

    As Jimmy Greaves used to say, "its a funny old game" and its "also a game of two halves" so I won't try to call the score at what feels like half time. But low and behold, the harm reductionists have highjacked Recovery and bent it to fit their definitions, or should I say, bent it to fit their existing contracts.

    The truth is, we all move toward all sorts of addictions for all sorts of reasons.  In my experience it was an answer to problems and it was a while before I noticed that my solution to my problems became my biggest problem.

    I was fortunate enough to get help.  The system we had back then (1986) was based on residential rehabilitative care, accessed via the Dept. for Health & Social Security (DHSS) and I was welcome for as long as I needed to be there (the programme was 11-months but this wasn't seen as a maximum).  Detoxing was the main reason for using methadone but I, like many others back then, came off heroin without the use of opiate substitutes, (we"clucked", went cold turkey) and most of the people on substitutes were blagging scripts to get by and self medicating on-top with whatever they could get.

    Going cold turkey seems really inhumane by today's frivolous prescribing standards, but that was the norm back then.  I'm not advocating going back to those days. But I do believe we need to get some perspective. We've gone too far the other way. It's time we stopped pretending that the rhetoric is reality - it's often a convenient staging post to delay the onset of recovery by continuing with addiction.


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