Home > Inaugural international conference marks Recovery Month.

McAleenan, Gerry (2017) Inaugural international conference marks Recovery Month. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 63, Autumn 2017, pp. 17-18.

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The first international conference in Ireland on recovery from drug addiction, Mainstreaming Recovery in Irish Drug Policy and Practice: the Challenge of Change, took place in Trinity College Dublin (TCD) on 8 September 2017. Organised by the Recovery Academy of Ireland, it was one of a number of events held during International Recovery Month to recognise, promote and celebrate recovery from addiction.


The conference heard international perspectives based on academic research; evidence that recovery works; insights into the recovery response in Scotland where addiction services have embraced a recovery model; lessons from the mental health recovery movement in Ireland that could be applied to addiction recovery; and personal stories of recovery journeys.


Professor David Best of Sheffield Hallam University gave the keynote address. Best is a leading figure in international research around recovery from drug and alcohol addiction and related policy issues. He believes that recovery is fundamentally an issue of social justice. It is about changing behaviour, building positive and supportive social networks and creating an open door to reintegrate the person in recovery. International studies that show what works are the following: dedicated recovery housing; mutual aid; peer-delivered interventions; support networks of sober friends; spending time with other people in recovery; and, spending time actually doing things such as childcare, engaging in community groups, volunteering, education, training, and employment.


Professor Agnes Higgins, a specialist in mental health nursing in the School of Nursing and Midwifery in TCD, said that traditionally recovery in mental health was understood as symptom management (cure, care and containment). Increasingly, however, it is being seen as a personal process of learning, discovery and growth, often described by the acronym CHIME: connection, hope, identity, meaning and empowerment.


She shared a number of lessons from the mental health recovery movement which could also apply to addiction recovery. The most important was to understand that recovery is a way of being and relating. It was also important to note that changing the services culture takes time and involves challenging values, beliefs, prejudices and fears. She recommended bringing services together to share ideas and bringing staff, service users and families together to build a shared understanding of what recovery means and how it can be achieved.


The conference heard an important contribution from Brian Galvin, senior information specialist at the Health Research Board. He outlined an initiative to create a shared framework which drug and alcohol services could use to measure recovery outcomes. The framework is still in development stage. Some of the outcomes to be measured will include attitude and feelings, employment and skills, relationships, personal circumstances and needs, and drug use behaviour. A pilot project will now occur in selected task forces using appropriate IT systems, agreed measurements and tools, staff training and results analysis. In particular, the service user will be encouraged to have a sense of ownership of the process.


Dharmacarini Kuladharini, chief executive of the Scottish Recovery Consortium, spoke about the Road to Recovery, the Scottish government’s drug strategy, published in 2008, which took as a fundamental principle that people in addiction services could lead a purposeful and meaningful life. The strategy transformed drug and alcohol services in Scotland, created new responses and built shared alliances.


Part of the response by the Scottish Recovery Consortium was to make lived experience visible at every level both within addiction services and the wider society. We changed the language, Kuladharini said. People were no longer service users or addicts but recovery activists.


The response also included employing people in recovery, organising a vibrant annual recovery walk and using recovery centres, pop-up cafés and colleges to mobilise people in recovery. In addition, there are workbooks and literature to support people in recovery and over 1,200 mutual aid meetings each week, more than the number of GP surgeries in Scotland.


As a result of the strategy, the response from treatment services and the efforts of people in recovery themselves, Scotland now has a thriving recovery movement with a multitude of vibrant recovery communities across the country.

Recovery as an issue of social justice was raised by several speakers at the conference, including Best. Roisín Shortall, TD, a long-time social justice advocate who chaired the conference, noted that there were about 9,600 people on methadone maintenance, some for more than 10 years, but that there had been little or no thought at policy level as to what should happen to them next. She said that Ireland as a society needed to be much more ambitious about people with addiction, recognise that they have huge potential and provide the supports so they can move out of addiction to recovery.


As with any social issue, it is the personal story that brings it alive. Pearse described the gains of 20 years on methadone:

When I was 16, I had a Junior Cert and an opiate addiction. Nothing changed for me since I went on methadone. Twenty years later, when I came off methadone I had a Junior Cert and an opiate addiction… People don’t realise the effect of methadone. It puts the light inside you out. You’re just dead.


Now six years clean and sober, Pearse has trained as a recovery coach and is completing a university degree.


Claire, another recovery coach who is now employed and works with women in recovery, also shared her recovery journey.

What has recovery given me? It’s given me back a life with a whole new purpose and opportunities that I never could have dreamed of...Most importantly, it has given me a sense of feeling part of something. For years in active addiction, I was disconnected and had no sense of belonging to anything. Today I am a member of a recovery community.


A full conference report and slides of presentations can be found on the Recovery Academy of Ireland website at www.recoveryacademyireland.ie. The Academy can be contacted at recoveryacademyire@gmail.com

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
All substances
Intervention Type
Issue Title
Issue 63, Autumn 2017
November 2017
Page Range
pp. 17-18
Health Research Board
Issue 63, Autumn 2017

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