[Hpn] Creating Advocates, Rallying Public Support are Goals

H. C. Sonny Covington H. C. Sonny Covington" <hccjr@bellsouth.net
Tue, 27 Nov 2001 02:01:19 -0500

When you reaf this, how do you feel it will help those called homeless due to
addiction issues?  Will the following help or hurt those recovering from the
life disaster we call Homelessness?


Creating Advocates, Rallying Public Support are Goals of Recovery Campaign
Recovery advocates have big plans for getting their message across to other
people touched by addiction, and to the American public: a national media
campaign launch in early 2002; a candidates forum next fall, to be held in
conjunction with National Recovery Month; a public-policy conference in
October, 2002, just before the midterm elections; and a Faces of Recovery
week, held in early 2003 to synchronize local and national advocacy events.

First, however, advocates must agree upon what their message will be.

In the first-ever national meeting of local recovery leaders, organizers
rolled out a national survey of people in recovery and their families --
intended, in part, to help shape the planned media campaign, which would
target both the recovering community and the public at large.

The survey of 500 people in recovery and their family members found that the
people most directly touched by addiction believe that the campaign should
transmit a positive message, focusing on the fact that recovery changes lives
for the better. "There is overwhelming support for this campaign" among people
in recovery and their families, said researcher Allan Rivlin, senior vice
president of polling firm Peter D. Hart Research Associates. "People are
looking for someone to tell this story."

The Faces and Voices of Recovery meeting, held in St. Paul, Minn., Oct. 5-7,
provided a forum for people in recovery to provide their input into the
planned media campaign, which will be developed by the Washington, D.C.-based
communications firm GMMB. "We need to make these materials relevant and useful
to people at the local level," explained Jeff Blodgett, coordinator of the
Alliance Project, which organized the meeting. "Otherwise, it'll be a

David Mitchell, a partner in GMMB, told advocates at the meeting that the
first goal of the campaign will be to "create a broad base in the recovery
community with the capability to organize and activate." The second goal is to
change public perceptions about addiction and recovery, added Mitchell; the
third will be to create or change public policies.

Recovery Advocates Tear into 'Red Meat'

Mitchell brought drafts of a campaign brochure and a call-to-action statement
as "red meat" for conference attendees to dissect and use as a starting point
for making recommendations on both internal and external messages.

Feedback was extensive: for example, participants told Mitchell that any
messages aimed at people in recovery must tackle the question of how to
advocate without violating the anonymity traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Attendees also said that internal messages should encourage people in recovery
to "give back" to others in need of help, and to view recovery as a political,
not solely personal, issue.

Also, people in recovery should be told that there are ways they can get
involved without "outing" themselves to the public, attendees said.

The Peter D. Hart survey indicated that the recovering community would be
surprisingly receptive to a call to action: half of those polled said they
would like to get personally involved in a recovery advocacy campaign, with 31
percent saying they would definitely speak or work publicly. "It's not about
convincing people to go public, because one-third of the recovery community is
saying, 'Tell me when to show up,'" noted Rivlin.

Many Pathways to Recovery

Advocates also said that internal messages should stress the fact that there
are many paths to recovery -- a refrain that was especially resonant with the
many methadone advocates in attendance at the St. Paul meeting. The survey
affirmed that enrolling in addiction treatment was not the only way that
people achieve sobriety: while 31 percent of respondents said they had gone
through treatment, 52 percent said their recovery was assisted by a self-help
program like A.A., and only 10 percent said they had received both
professional treatment and attended self-help programs.

Most significantly, a quarter of those surveyed said they recovered without
benefit of either treatment or self-help. Rivlin acknowledged that the finding
that so many people got well on their own "may challenge the recovery
community," and could portend the presence of a large number of people who
don't necessarily agree that treatment services are hard to come by.

This, too, was reflected in the survey results: When asked what they
considered the major barriers to treatment, 60 percent of people in recovery
said denial, while 40 percent said shame. But only 27 percent cited access to
treatment or cost, and just 11 percent said lack of programs. When asked how
easy it is to get treatment, people in recovery were split almost evenly in
their opinions.

"The recovery community is divided on whether it is easy or hard to get
treatment," noted Rivlin, despite statistics showing that treatment capacity
falls far short of demand.

On the other hand, Rivlin said, the statistics showing that many people
recover on their own suggests that the population of people in recovery -- and
potential advocates -- may actually be much larger than experts think.

A 'Miracle Cure'

When asked to assess proposed messages aimed at the general public and
policymakers, the recovering people surveyed by Rivlin and colleagues found
that the one deemed most important was this: "Millions of Americans are in
long-term recovery from alcohol and drug addiction, and thousands more get
well each year. These people are living proof that recovery happens and that
there are real solutions to the problem of drug and alcohol addiction."

Some conference participants said that the message should tout recovery as a
"miracle cure," while others felt the campaign should be cast as a
civil-rights or human-rights struggle. "There's an awful lot of things the
community wants to tell the public," said Rivlin. "What we need to do is trim
it down to a single message."

According to the survey, people in recovery also believe that focusing on the
impact that addiction has on children is critically important to the success
of any media campaign: 75 percent said that supporters could be motivated by
messages pointing out that children are the most helpless victims of addiction
and the biggest beneficiaries of recovery.

However, conference participants objected strenuously to language in a draft
brochure that called on people to help "protect" children from addiction --
language they felt was too stigmatizing. Some suggested that the focus of
campaign materials should be on families, not children.

Family members of people with addictions are a key constituency for the
recovery movement, summit organizers and participants agreed. But their
support is not a given: As one summit participant noted, "The biggest
stigmatizers of addiction are the spouses and children of abusers who never
saw family members get well, and never saw treatment work."

Conference organizers noted that groups like the National Alliance for the
Mentally Ill -- founded by family members of people with mental illness --
could serve as a role model for recovery advocacy. Statistics indicate that
families are sorely in need of support: the Hart survey found that only 26
percent of family members had received help of any kind in dealing with their
loved one's addiction.

Campaign Advisory Committee Chosen

The Faces of Recovery wrapped up with participants choosing a 21-member
campaign advisory committee that will continue to help guide development of
advocacy materials. The Alliance Project's Blodgett said that the immediate
post-conference goal will be to finish work on the brochure and call to action
previewed at the meeting, which should be ready for dissemination by the end
of the year.

Blodgett said the St. Paul meeting achieved a surprising amount of consensus
on the need for a national advocacy campaign and what it should focus on.
"What surprised me was the lack of contentiousness," he said, adding, "I think
we're close to the elusive common message we've all been looking for."
Creating Advocates, Rallying Public Support are Goals of Recovery Campaign.
Original feature article, Join Together Online (www.jointogether.org), October
19, 2001.