New legislation seeks to create “Recovery Ready” communities

Kentucky’s addiction crisis is too substantial and far-reaching for any single legislator, organization, or government agency to tackle alone. It’s a sentiment we’ve said and heard time and time again. And now, it’s the foundation for legislation we hope to see passed in 2021 to encourage a comprehensive approach to substance use disorder prevention, treatment, and recovery across the state.

If you’ve spent time in more than one of Kentucky’s 120 counties, you know how striking the differences can be from one county to the next. Some of these differences, things like geography and population size, are quite easy to recognize. But others aren’t so obvious—and it’s these less visible factors that often impact Kentuckians the most.

This is certainly true when it comes to the ability of individual communities to effectively address substance use and addiction, as well as the social determinants that exacerbate them. While we’d like to think all Kentuckians have equal opportunities to prevent, treat, and recover from substance use disorders, the reality is that significant disparities exist from place to place.

Fortunately, in the new year, the Kentucky General Assembly will have an opportunity to tackle this problem by passing legislation that establishes a framework for communities to become “Recovery Ready.” This will bring much-needed consistency to local prevention, treatment, and recovery efforts across the state, so that regardless of where Kentuckians call home—whether that be a rural area, urban center, or somewhere in between—they will have access to the wide-ranging services that have been proven to help them lead healthy lives, free from dangerous substances.

The gap this legislation seeks to fill has become even more pronounced amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has presented major challenges for individuals struggling with substance use disorders and the service providers who support them.

Providers have had to adapt quickly over the last several months, changing the way they deliver essential services like counseling, housing, and treatment while operating with very limited resources. At the same time, substance use is on the rise, as many Kentuckians continue to deal with unemployment, job insecurity, and feelings of isolation. This has created a catastrophic environment for many of our most vulnerable friends, neighbors, and loved ones. And the consequences reverberate far beyond just those individuals most directly affected.

The addiction crisis impacts everything from our schools and criminal justice system, to workforce participation and the economy.

That’s why collaboration is so important when it comes to solving this problem—and why our legislation creates an advisory council comprised of recovery leaders, government officials, law enforcement, private sector employers, and other key stakeholders who, as a first step, will work together to determine what makes a community “Recovery Ready.”

These standards will capture the all-inclusive needs of individuals in and seeking recovery and address the social determinants that lead to addiction and make recovery more feasible: health care and treatment, housing, employment, and educational opportunities, childcare and transportation, counseling, and peer support, just to name a few. Ultimately, we hope to encourage local communities to take inventory of the resources they currently offer, how easily they can be accessed, and the areas in need of more support and attention. And, by focusing on preventative measures as well, they’ll better position local communities to stop substance use before it starts, particularly among younger generations.

While we’ve certainly made progress over the years, Kentucky continues to rank among the states with the highest overdose death rates nationwide. More than 1,300 of our fellow Kentuckians lost their lives to overdoses in 2019 alone. Thousands of others continue to live in the throes of addiction today. These individuals need more than our acknowledgment that the addiction crisis exists—they need comprehensive services and support. It’s our responsibility, as legislators, public officials, and community leaders, to ensure these resources are available in each community and that residents know they exist and have the means to access them. That’s what it means to be “Recovery Ready.”

Addiction is a highly complex disease, but the solution doesn’t have to be. By working together, we can show Kentuckians the path to long-term recovery and provide them the resources they need along the way. From Paducah to Pikeville, let’s all commit to making our communities “Recovery Ready” in 2021.

Adam Bowling is the state representative for the 87th house district and serves on the Health and Family Services Committee. Tim Robinson is the president and CEO of Addiction Recovery Care.