September marks National Recovery Month in the U.S. — the goal of which is to educate the population, promote a healthy lifestyle and provide assistance to those who battle addiction issues and mental health-related struggles.
There are many recovery-related efforts in full swing in the Richmond area, including at VCU.
VCU student Eric — who requested his last name be withheld for privacy — said he owes the Richmond recovery community for his ability to return to classes as he approaches graduation next May.
“Eliminating the stigma is one of the most difficult hurdles that I try to combat every day,” said Eric, who works at True Recovery RVA, a local recovery community organization. “With the opioid epidemic at the plateau it seems to have reached, almost everyone in the United States has been affected by addiction. I hope that the stigma words like ‘heroin,’ ‘addiction’ and ‘addict’ carry will soon evaporate.”
Another active organization in the local recovery community is the McShin Foundation. Founded in 2004, McShin has been on the front lines of the opioid crisis, led by CEO Honesty Liller and founder John Shinholser.
“We celebrate National Recovery Month every September to help the community understand substance use disorders,” Liller said. “This gives hope to those still in active addiction, their families, people in recovery, as well as the community at large to reduce the negative outlook on addiction.”
In addition to assistance in the Richmond community, VCU has its own organizations dedicated to helping people with addiction, such as Rams in Recovery — a peer-to-peer recovery group. Additional student resources, including information about groups and meetings, can be found at The Well at 815 S. Cathedral Street.
National Recovery Month began in 1989 through efforts led by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
In Virginia alone, overdose deaths have more than doubled in the last decade, increasing from 721 in 2007 to 1,538 in 2017, according to the Virginia Department of Health. Furthermore, 2017 was the worst year for drug overdose deaths nationwide at more than 72,000 — nearly 200 deaths a day. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, over two-thirds of those deaths were from from opiates, like heroin and fentanyl.
The local recovery movement is making some gains, with data from the first quarterly report by the Virginia Department of Health showing drug related fatalities have slowed in 2018.
After facing ups and downs throughout the past several years, Eric said going back to school and being a student in recovery helps him prioritize his life.
“My recovery is extremely important to me. You could almost say my life depends on it, because it does,” Eric said. “I also find that when I am clean I feel a part of something bigger than me, not only the organization I help out, but also in society as a whole.”
For students looking for external help, the McShin Foundation can be contacted at 804-249-1845 and True Recovery RVA can be reached at 804-690-2204.