For millennia, social justice movements have been the impetus for change in a wide array of societies. Here in the United States, we have experienced the Women’s Suffrage movement, the Civil Rights movement, the Aids movement, the LGBTQ+ movement, and most importantly to me and many of you, the recovery advocacy movement. Today marked another moment of immense momentum, as President Barack Obama attended the National Drug Abuse Summit in Atlanta, Georgia. Present with him, steadfast at his right hand side, was Justin Luke Riley (CEO/President of Young People in Recovery), one of the nation’s most outspoken advocates of the N-RAM.
The build up to this moment in history has been vast, and chronicled by many social historians. Most prominent, William White, where the N-RAM moniker originates from. We are now arguably in the fourth of the recovery social justice movement, or the N-RAM. First, Marty Mann and the advent of the National Committee for Education on Alcoholism (now NCADD), prominently advocated for the concept of the disease model in the early 1940s. Second, Senator Harold Hughes and the grass-roots group SOAR, Society of Americans for Recovery, was created and drove conversation around the possibility and reality of recovery in the United States in the 1970s. Third, in the early 2000’s, Faces and Voices of Recovery (FAVOR) was created by staunch recovery advocates like Joe Powell and Tom Hill (among many others) – driving the creation of widespread recovery community organizations and giving voices to thousands of people in recovery around the country. Now, with the new wave recovery advocacy movement, containing organizations like Young People in Recovery, FAVOR, Facing Addiction, and hundreds of thousands of advocates thanks to digital networking, we have reached what could be deemed a true tipping point.
Like in many social movements, the embracing of public, private, and governmental concern is a marker of progress. In the last 2 years we have seen major public events such as the Unite To Face Addiction Rally in Washington D.C., where an estimated 25,000 demonstrated on the national mall in support of recovery from addiction; we have seen private / public partnership to perpetuate research endeavors into sustained outcomes from organizations such as MAP Recovery Network and Life of Purpose Group; and we have seen great strides in legislative policy that seeks to de-criminalize substance use, and increase access to a multitude of substance use disorder treatments (see Good Samaritan laws, first responder naloxone access, the CDC’s new guidelines on opioid prescriptions, and the White Houses’ statements through fact sheets on the opioid crisis).
To see Justin on stage with POTUS Obama today was symbolism that should encourage recovery advocates across the country. For many this marks decades of long hours, tireless pursuits of reform, and a lifetime of work. For those of us that are dedicated to the N-RAM, this is a testament to the work we have done over the last 5 years. We lend our voices to this movement for a variety of reasons – whether you have buried loved ones, found recovery yourself, or been penalized by the criminal justice system because of a chronic disease.
Today, we saw our voices represented by a fearless leader on the stage in Atlanta. All of you who have lent your face and voice of recovery made today possible. Tomorrow, empowered by the day’s events, we must continue to speak louder and more often so that we can live in a world which embraces recovery and supports it in every possible way.
— If you missed the session today, you can watch it in archived format below —