Addiction recovery community organization forming in Pasco

New long-term addiction recovery services may soon be headed to Pasco County, by way of what’s called a Recovery Community Organization.

A Recovery Community Organization, otherwise known as an RCO, is an independent, nonprofit organization led and governed by representatives of local communities of recovery, which organizes recovery-focused policy advocacy activities, carries out recovery-focused community education and outreach programs, and provides peer-based recovery support services.

Dozens of community members participated in a Feb 26 listening session in Land O’ Lakes on the possible formation of a Recovery Community Organization, to help bring more long-term addiction recovery services coming to Pasco. A Recovery Community Organization is an independent nonprofit, which promotes recovery-focused policy advocacy activities, carries out recovery-focused community education and outreach programs, and provides peer-based recovery support services. (Kevin Weiss)

The project is being facilitated by Clearwater-based Recovery Epicenter Foundation, which has operated an RCO without borders since 2016.

Guidance and technical assistance on the program is coming from the Florida Alcohol & Drug Abuse Foundation (FADAA), through a three-year Aetna Foundation grant called All in for Florida: A Recovery Project; the Pasco County Alliance for Substance Abuse (ASAP) is also providing support in the RCO development process.

Details about RCO programming were discussed during a Feb. 26 community listening session at Land O’ Lakes Heritage Park in Land O’ Lakes.

While there’s no definitive timetable for the formation of an RCO in Pasco, it’s expected to take many months at least, officials said.

The community listening session brought together dozens of stakeholders, including persons in recovery and professionals in health care, criminal justice, faith-based organizations and others.

Attendees suggested an RCO in Pasco needs to, among other initiatives, find ways address the following:

  • More affordable housing opportunities
  • More homeless shelters and treatment facilities
  • More residential treatment beds
  • Better public transportation opportunities
  • Recovery-friendly employment and workforce training
  • Greater access to recovery at all levels of care
  • Decriminalization of substance use disorder
  • Additional 12-step recovery meetings
  • Greater access to peer support services

In many cases, RCOs shift the focus of recovery programming from clinically driven acute care to recovery management, speakers said.

A significant component of that is mobilizing recovery peer specialists — people who have been successful in the recovery process who help others battling addiction through shared experience, understanding, respect and mutual empowerment.

Such methodology helps reduce relapse rates over time, according to Ken Brown, a recovery-oriented system of care specialist for the Florida Department of Children and Families Suncoast Region, who spoke at the community listening session.

Brown said RCOs and related support services provide “a key element for communities to help people in recovery.”

He emphasized the need for more placement on long-term recovery management, as opposed to routine substance abuse treatment.

Brown put it like this: “So many times, our system falls short because we address the acute care needs that go into treatment for 30 days or whatever and then they get out — and that’s not how (recovery) happens.

“We have to shift our thought process from acute care to recovery management, ‘What are the hopes and dreams of those going through recovery? What can we do to advance their recovery? And, most importantly, what can we do to keep you in recovery?’”

The listening session also featured FADAA recovery project director Ginny LaRue, who is developing RCOs in nine Florida counties, including Pasco.

In other counties, LaRue explained, RCOs have primarily focused facilitating programs that offer employment assistance, transportation, health and wellness, and recreational opportunities, independent support groups and so on.

While FADAA assists in forming RCOs, LaRue said the onus is on the local community “to make it sustainable, through partnerships (and) through collaboration.”

She added RCOs are successful because they’re grassroots, community-driven efforts that get “more of the voice of recovery.”

LaRue added: “This is not clinical. This is lived experience helping lived experience. It’s a matter of all these people in the community saying, ‘This is what we’re going to do. This is how we’re going to do it.’”

LaRue herself is a former addict who’s been in recovery for the last 15 years.

In addition to her work with FADAA, she also operates a sober-living house in Daytona Beach.

She, like others at the meeting, underscored the importance of wide-ranging, accessible long-term recovery services.

For her, “things didn’t get better” immediately stepping out of drug treatment, LaRue said.

Instead, she said she needed years of peer mentoring and recovery support services to become “a responsible member of my community.”

“You cannot live on an island and try to recover,” LaRue said. “I needed the community to wrap their arms around me and help me through that process, and restore me.”

The next step in the RCO formation process is scheduling a recovery symposium.

That will be followed by a series of recovery community visioning meetings to determine action steps and program implementation.

A symposium planning session is scheduled for March 20 at 11 a.m., at Trinity Church of Christ, 4234 St. Lawrence Drive in New Port Richey.

The meeting is open to the public.

Published March 13, 2019

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