Sunday as a friend and I walked from the neighborhood where we live in Durham, North Carolina to an annual event, I wondered if this year it would have the same powerful impact on me.
A year ago, I remember being directed to the appropriate registration line and then suddenly looking up to see hundreds of expectant faces lined up expectantly on a landing above.
Everyone there was sharply dressed in coat and tie or the female alternative even though a year ago it was 95 degrees and equally humid.
Their faces were beaming with expectation because it was “family day” at TROSA, a renowned but very difficult two-year residential treatment program in Durham.
As I wiped away the tears quickly welling up at that sight, I began looking for the brother of my closest friend who had entered the program a few weeks earlier to begin recovery from three decades of addiction.
I learned that day that not everyone’s family is supportive. Many there come from other parts of the country and their families may not have had the means to travel here for the event.
Others that day were confronted by family members who were enablers or who whined about how tough life had been without them, even pressuring loved ones to leave the program as a handful may have.
But for the vast majority, families sat in small circles catching up while beaming at the remarkable differences they observed in their loved ones and the inspiring transformation.
I befriended the founder who arrived in Durham less than five years after I did in part because we were both involved in startups, mine the community’s first marketing arm and guardian of its sense of place, his a remarkable innovation in social entrepreneurism.
Kevin is also a neighbor of mine. He started with two dozen residents building on the small Delancey Street program out west that had helped him into a life-long recovery.
Today, there are more than 500 residents at TROSA at no cost and it is being heralded across the nation as a “best practice.”
Long-term recovery overall is now a national movement of 23.5 million Americans.
Even though I became a customer of TROSA services a year or two after Kevin and I met, and became a sustaining monthly donor a few years after that, I was a part of the problem back then.
I knew that addiction is a disease but in the back of my mind I probably still judged those not in recovery on the basis of will power.
Even as Kevin and TROSA were honored shortly before I retired by the signature Annual Durham Tribute Luncheon, I remember wondering if I had been guilty of merely making an exception.
I remember how stunned four friends were fifteen years ago when I got all over them during a backyard cookout for being enablers after hearing them joke about casual use of drugs because I still saw drugs and alcohol misuse as a supply and demand problem.
But the real enablers are the 43% of Americans who still stigmatize drug and alcohol addiction as a personal vice or, a lack of moral character.
In a poll last week they object to treatment being included in private health insurance coverage or by an increase in public funds, clinging unsympathetically to “just say no” while nursing vulnerabilities of other kinds.
Addiction is a $600 billion annual drag on the economy. Seven-in-ten Americans know someone among the 20 million addicted Americans who are not in recovery.
Nearly four-in-ten Americans are personally aware of addicts who unable to access publicly funded treatment, but the objections to making more available are not entirely partisan.
Republicans, Independents and Democrats all support doing more, although the latter two by greater ratios. An easy way would be to transfer a good part of what is now spent on locking people away, where outcomes only worsen.
The Courts in Durham and North Carolina love TROSA and elsewhere the word is rapidly spreading. It is much safer, far more cost-effective and far more efficient at creating recovery outcomes than jail time.
But society isn’t transferring any of the savings from incarceration over into recovery programs and even if it did, chances are the resources would be wasted on short term programs with little or no efficacy.
As a nation, we’ve come oh so close to embracing lasting solutions to this problem, only as we did in the 1980s to slip back into directing far more treasure than it would cost back into moralistic preaching.
In the meantime, programs like TROSA are working and worthy of attention and capacity.