Every week, at least a half dozen people approach me, email me or call me asking for advice about what they can do to help address drug and alcohol problems in their town, county, state or country. I’m always happy to answer those questions, but I decided that it was time for me to write out a list of options and directions for people to look at and work off of. Here are 12 suggestions:
(1) Every town that has over 10,000 people should have a prescription drug drop box (Usually they are at police stations. To learn more about them, click here. For help getting one put in your town or county, click here).
(2) We need advocates to tell their stories to politicians, government officials, school administrators, parent groups, students and a host of professionals. In NJ, there is an Advocacy Leadership Program that takes a new class every year. You don’t have to be a person in recovery to have a story worth telling – you can be the parent or spouse or child or friend of someone who found the joys of recovery or died from this public health problem.
(3) We don’t really need new organizations. Join an existing one. Many municipalities and most counties have anti-drug coalitions that engage in a lot of prevention work. This is a great point of entry into the field, an easy way to make a difference and a fantastic way to build your network if you want to eventually do more.
(4) Let’s say you have a lot of money and want to make your own organization. Talk to your lawyer and accountant. Then find some influential people in your county and state to talk to. They should be able to give you some good advice about existing programs. I strongly urge you to join an already established group. There are plenty of 501C3 organizations that have some good people working there but they need better organization skills, publicity and/or more funding.
(5) You still want to create your own organization. You better find a really great person with a lot of experience to run it. And you need to be prepared for the fact that you are probably going to lose money.
(6) There are a lot of great programs that need fundraising help. I can steer you towards them in NJ or wherever you live. Of course, one of my favorites is the Rutgers ADAP and Recovery House program. If you want to raise money or donate to them, I’ll be happy to put you in touch with the right people.
(7) If you have been clean and sober for two years and have decided that you want to work in this field, I suggest that you get an entry level job (part time or full time) at a halfway house or in-patient program. Work several months on nights and weekends. Interact with clients. Drive them to appointments and meetings. Sit in on groups and watch great and lousy counselors. Accept the fact that the hours are long and the pay is bad (and will be for a long time if you decide to continue this work). For those of you that don’t have an addiction disorder but want to do this work, you can still follow this advice step by step.
(8) Take a couple of professional courses (in NJ, they are called CADC courses; in NY they are CADAC courses). The Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies offers courses year round on Thursdays and has a one week summer school. You will be exposed to new ideas and meet a number of other people like you (some of whom will be further along and can offer you their experience in this process).
(9) Middle school and high school curricula do a poor job at addressing the prescription drug problem. You can urge your local school board to bring in some programming (for students, for faculty and staff, and for parents) that educates people on these issues. This is an area where you can EASILY make a big impact.
(10) Contact your town council, county executive (or freeholder) and state legislator and let them know that you care about these issues. If you are wondering what issues are out there, keep reading my website (and look for extra articles that I link to on the Facebook version of my site) and read the health section of the New York Times each day.
(11) If you really want to engage in direct service work, you need to get your Bachelors and Masters degrees and then get a license. Consider getting a Masters in Social Work (the quickest way to a powerful license) or getting a Masters in Addiction Counseling from Hazelden. You will be a much better candidate for these programs, a better student and a better prospective employee if you followed my advice in point (7). Once you have a Masters level license, you can teach, train workers, take on interns, run programs and cast a much wider influence. It’s a long road, but worth it.
(12) If you need additional help or guidance, feel free to contact me.