It's Time to Reform the 12-Step Culture for Addiction from Within

As a woman in recovery since 2002, who has survived multiple overdoses requiring emergency medical attention, I find it very disappointing that when I bring up overdose prevention education efforts to many of my comrades in 12 step programs, I am met with resistance.


During my current project, which specifically targets abstinence-only treatment and housing modalities to embrace overdose prevention education efforts (not only for staff but for clients as well), I have experienced the inevitable eye-rolling upon my introduction of these efforts.

I find this appalling.

When did it become acceptable to profit off of providing housing or services to those most vulnerable to an overdose and yet have such disdain for overdose prevention efforts? Shouldn’t this be a concern of liability, if not compassion? Shouldn’t there be naloxone, (a life-saving medication that reverses opioid overdoses) in every emergency kit of every location that houses or treats our most vulnerable? Shouldn’t this be as important as the required fire extinguishers?

When the elderly are discharged from the hospital, their biggest risk is that they will fall and injure themselves. Nurses provide discharge teaching that must be signed by patients or family to help prevent this.

If a patient goes home and falls, and no discharge teaching was documented, the nurse and the facility are liable. This is the level of discharge planning/teaching that needs to occur in treatment centers and sober livings. No patient should be discharged from rehab without receiving overdose prevention training and naloxone and every sober living should have naloxone and managers trained in administering it.

Overdoses have bypassed car accidents as the #1 cause of accidental death. Over 43,000 lives are claimed every year. According to Peter Davidson, Ph. D., of the Division of Global Public Health, Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego, “We now have over 10 years’ worth of research showing that not only does having naloxone not increase people’s drug use, but that there’s evidence that the experience of saving someone’s life using naloxone is associated with ceasing heroin use altogether within the next 12 months.”

There is no excuse to exclude naloxone training and education at any level.

Forget the words, “harm reduction” for now. (But really why is that such a bad word? And why does that generate the most extreme eye rolling?) We are talking about saving lives of those “who still suffer” or those at-risk of suffering.

We can “have a moment of silence” but no education on a life-saving medication such as naloxone? Those of us who are able to participate in recovery because of naloxone, really have no excuse to be wary of these efforts.

As executive director of Center for Living and Learning, I am able to lead a staff that gives hope to hundreds annually, who visit our site from treatment centers for employment and supportive services. Tell them we are not worth saving. Tell my children that their mother was not worth saving.

To quote my friend and fellow activist, Julia Negron, “There’s no recovery if you’re dead.  With 30 years of sobriety under my belt I advocate for overdose prevention full time. 

Now I think all of the time about when my life was saved and how it made all the difference that I was given a second chance.  When we incorporate life-saving naloxone kits and overdose prevention education into the policies of all treatment facilities and sober living settings, we are saying that "we value you, every life is worth our compassion."   

We can have faith in recovery principles but act responsibly as well.   I am the proof. I have been blessed being the head of a large happy family with grandkids and great grandkids.  This was the gift that second chance at life gave me - and I could have missed it all.

I call on all of my 12 step comrades to remember that “Love and tolerance is our code” and if you are not interested in saving lives, please do not intimidate those of us who are.

Please stop the eye rolling. Those of you who wish to join us, please stand up and make yourself known.   Have the courage to change the things you can and advocate for life-saving naloxone, as well as life-saving recovery and the 12 steps.

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