(The Center Square) — Advocates for drug recovery services rallied at the state Capitol on Tuesday to extol the importance of getting help — and letting those who struggle with substance abuse know that life gets better.
“The road to recovery is paved in a way that allows all who want to walk on it the opportunity to do just that,” Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs Secretary Latika Davis-Jones said. “Know that DDAP is working diligently to advance the governor’s agenda by expanding education, prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery support programs across the commonwealth.”
She noted the Shapiro administration’s launch of drug recovery hubs in April, which will create nine centers across Pennsylvania, each one funded with up to $500,000. A helpline also exists to connect people with anti-addiction resources, 1-800-622-HELP.
“Someone is always on the other end to pick up,” Davis-Jones said.
Recovering Pennsylvanians argued recovery hubs offer a crucial place to improve lives and rebuild communities.
“I can’t go on enough about the importance of recovery centers,” Shasta Wilkinson, a certified recovery specialist with the Armstrong-Indiana-Clarion Drug and Alcohol Commission who has been in recovery since 2012, said. “The one thing we always hear is ‘change your people, places, and things.’ Where? … Having a place for people to go and hang out and connect is huge.”
Other speakers echoed Wilkinson.
“Recovery houses can save our lives if we allow them to,” Jessica Paone, a therapist who has been in recovery since 2016, said. “Let’s recover out loud so other people don’t have to suffer in silence.”
Addiction and recovery services have expanded in recent years — on both the state and county levels.
“People are getting help and our numbers show it,” Wyoming County Commissioner Tom Henry, who has been in recovery for 37 years and serves on the Luzerne-Wyoming Drug and Alcohol Commission, said. “We were having two to four overdoses sometimes daily, and now our numbers keep getting better. I don’t think we’ve had an overdose in the last three months — at least.”
Wyoming County has a Law Enforcement Treatment Initiative to enroll people in drug treatment without the threat of arrest; medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction available to the public and within the county prison; a drug court; a “warm handoff” program to help inmates released from jail re-enter society; and a residential rehab provider and three outpatient centers, Henry said, among other programs.
“Help is available, and it’s available everywhere you look today,” Henry said. “All you have to do is reach out — we’re all here to help.”
A handful of state legislators spoke at the rally about the past issues with addiction they or a family member experienced.
“I’m here because people out there that are struggling with addiction need to find recovery,” Sen. John Kane, D-Chester, said. “Nobody wants to grow up and wants to be a drug addict or an alcoholic.”
Kane, who led the Plumbers Local 690 union and faced an alcohol addiction, said 22 workers died from a drug overdose between 2007 and 2020.
Reps. Jim Gregory, R-Hollidaysburg, Joe Hohenstein, D-Philadelphia, and Jim Struzzi, R-Indiana, argued that supporting recovery wasn’t a partisan issue, pointing to their work on legalizing fentanyl test strips and a proposed bill to create a Lifetime Recovery from Substance Abuse Grant Program.
The discussion around addiction recovery, too, has changed, Gregory said, who has been in recovery since 2010.
“There’s more of a comfortability for people to talk and share their experience, strength, and hope because they’re in recovery,” he said. “And the more people hear about experience, strength, and hope, hopefully it gives them the belief that they can have hope, too.”
Recovery workers repeated that hope matters, and people can change their lives.
“We don’t believe that your whole life should be about the worst thing that you did,” Jordan Mattes, a certified recovery specialist with the Council of Southeast Pennsylvania, said.