July 6th, 2015

Editor’s Note: The role of medications in addiction recovery has historically been fraught with controversy. The most contentious issue currently revolves around the use of buprenorphine. My clinical experience and reading of the scientific literature has convinced me that, when used properly, buprenorphine can expedite recovery. One of the primary treatment goals for our patients at Kolmac is for them to establish a constructive relationship with the outside recovery community.

Most Narcotic Anonymous meetings, however, do not regard patients on buprenorphine as being in full recovery and press them to discontinue the medication. I was very glad to discover that it is possible for an NA group to grant full privileges to this group of patients. The group described in this post about medications in addiction recovery has provided a critical resource for these patients, and I hope to see an expansion of these types of NA groups in the near future.

My name is Rennie G., and I’m a recovering drug addict. I’ve been a member of Narcotics Anonymous since 1984. I was 19 years old then, and my life was at a standstill. After some coercion from my parents, I got clean in an inpatient rehab facility and afterwards, went to N.A.

What kept me coming back to meetings were the fellowship, brotherhood, and sisterhood of the groups. I was accepted, hugged, and included in such a way that I simply had no defense against the warmth and love I found in the rooms. The N.A. I remember was full of caring, albeit slightly crazed folks, who just like me, had found a new way to live.

Sadly, I relapsed. I stayed “out there” for 17 years, and yes, it got very bad. I finally found my way back into recovery 2008 and went to Kolmac. Since my relapse in 1991, several new treatment methods and philosophies have come online. One of them, buprenorphine, has created such a deep rift within the 12-step community that I felt I had no choice but to address it. I believe in medications in the addiction recovery.

I now work in the treatment field, and I see people every day coming to Kolmac for an intensive outpatient program (IOP) and aftercare. Some of them have been prescribed buprenorphine for medication in addiction treatment. I see many of them come in a wreck and then graduate the program as functional, recovering, growing people dedicated to change and remaining abstinent from illicit drugs. This is, as we say in the treatment community, positive measurable change.

Unfortunately for these recovering people, some within the 12-step community don’t feel that recovering people adhering to this methodology meet their criteria defining true “sobriety.” This attitude of intolerance creates a toxic atmosphere within some N.A. groups and that toxicity acts as a barrier to true integration for recovering addicts who are in a medication-assisted treatment program. As is N.A’s, my primary concern is for the still suffering addict. To combat this negative atmosphere, my good friend and I started the “Day by Day” group of Narcotics Anonymous. This group is a “medication-assisted recovery friendly group.”

Now, I know that’s confusing to some, so let me explain. We afford our group members the dignity to decide for themselves whether they are or are not clean and sober. If they have not used an illicit drug for 30 days, they can get a key tag. If they remain abstinent from illicit drugs for six months and they are working an NA program, which includes having a sponsor, completing step work, and studying traditions and the philosophy behind the Narcotics Anonymous program, they can chair the group and get a six-month tag.

The response has been overwhelming. Each week someone says to me, “I am so grateful that you guys started this group. I feel safe here, and I can share openly and honestly about where I am today.” Shouldn’t they be able to feel this way at every N.A. home group?

“Day by Day” group meetings are held in the main hospital of Sheppard Pratt on Wednesday evenings from 7:45 to 8:45. For more information, contact mwatson@kolmac.com.
To learn more about medications in addiction recovery, contact us.

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