A Celebration of Government Heroes (Excerpt Recovery Rising)

Public employees, including those working in municipal, state, and federal agencies responsible for planning and funding of alcohol and other drug (AOD) prevention and treatment services, receive more than their fair share of criticism from multiple quarters, and work within these bureaucracies can be extremely frustrating at times. But, in these organizations, windows of opportunity are present to do things that are truly revolutionary. If a single act set the stage for the rise of a recovery advocacy movement in the United States, it was the creation of the Recovery Community Support Program (RCSP) by the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT). That program provided grant money to state, regional, and local grassroots recovery community organizations to mobilize people in recovery as a force for public education and policy advocacy. What emerged as the new recovery advocacy movement was broader than those programs funded through the RCSP, but the RCSP sites were among the strongest and most effective of the newly formed recovery community organizations.

But this story is not about a program, it is about the power of individuals. Two quite remarkable people were instrumental in crafting and implementing CSAT’s RCSP: Dr. H. Westley Clark, who at the time was Director of CSAT, and Catherine Nugent, who served as the first RCSP Project Officer. Their vision and boundless enthusiasm for the RCSP and their personal encouragement of so many of the new recovery advocacy leaders were critical to the early launch of a national recovery advocacy movement. In spite of all the political and administrative constraints on them, these two individuals deserve the title of hero for what they contributed. I cannot think of better examples of public employees who made a difference in the lives of individuals and families in recovery than Dr. Clark and Catherine Nugent.

We tend to think of heroes in this field in terms of those working on the frontlines of addiction treatment and recovery support, and that work can indeed be heroic. But we should not forget that heroism also exists within the government entities that plan, fund, regulate, monitor, and evaluate those frontline services. Should an opportunity arise in your future to serve in such a role, consider it. When you encounter a public employee who is making such a difference, thank them.

Update: Bill Stauffer has just posted a wonderful interview with Dr. Clark on the 2001 Recovery Summit in St. Paul, MN. You can access the interview HERE.