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A Recovery Revolution in Southern Illinois

September 6, 2023

By; Mark Sanders, LCSW, CADC

As I participated in the 3rd Annual Walk for Recovery hosted by Southern Illinois Recovery Network in honor of National Recovery Month 2023, I reflected on how far this region has come in tackling the challenge of substance use disorders (SUD). Approximately 15 years ago, this rural region that comprises the southern third of Illinois was in the midst of a methamphetamine crisis. There were law enforcement raids of meth labs, increased arrests, and child welfare involvement. Some children of methamphetamine users were labeled “meth orphans”— similar to the stigmatizing language used to describe children in metropolitan areas exposed to crack cocaine prenatally, referred to as “crack babies.” News from 2007 shared a jaw-dropping statistic: between 1997 and 2005, meth labs in a five-county area in the region had increased by 19,000 percent.

Treatment providers in southern Illinois and concerned residents teamed up and created two annual methamphetamine conferences in the region. This was one of the region’s first attempts to understand and learn to address the crisis. More was needed.

Recovery Oriented Systems of Care Councils, RCOs, and treatment services

Today, the southern region is undergoing a transformation. Recovery Oriented Systems of Care (ROSC) Councils have formed in counties throughout the region. These councils consist of SUD treatment providers, faith-based organizations, the business community, hospitals, law enforcement, the court system, persons in recovery, and allies. Together, they develop and implement strategies for supporting individuals with SUD on their recovery journeys. Arrowleaf, one of the newest ROSC services providers in the region, is establishing ROSC Councils in six counties.

Southern Illinois is also home to a number of Recovery Community Organizations (RCOs). Take Action Today, a faith-based RCO formed in 2020, offers numerous services, including recovery coaching, advocacy, the training of certified peer specialists, outreach to persons transitioning from homelessness, recovery drop-in centers, partnerships with jails to provide recovery support services, and mental health assessments, and the annual recovery walks.

AMARE, the first RCO established in the southern Illinois region, provides leadership, helping to guide newer RCOs in the state. AMARE also provides recovery support services, family recovery support, resource navigation, recovery-oriented theater plays to reduce stigma, and recovery month celebrations, including the annual Rockin’ for Recovery Music Festival. This year, the festival will feature four rock bands and three speakers. AMARE also partners with drug courts to provide recovery support services and trains new recovery support specialists.

In addition, several organizations provide SUD treatment services in the region. Chestnut Health Systems, Conwell, Arrowleaf, and Egyptian Health Center are among them. These organizations do an excellent job partnering with local RCOs and other recovery-oriented services. The region has also expanded its range of peer-based recovery support groups, including Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Smart Recovery, Refuge Recovery (Buddhist Approach to recovery), and Celebrate Recovery. A monthly regional meeting focuses on offering coordinated services in the spirit of a recovery-oriented system of care.

While challenges persist, the region’s commitment to tackling substance misuse and improving access to treatment and recovery has never been stronger. With more help and support, more individuals in the Southern Illinois region have the opportunity to start their paths to recovery.

The word revolution is defined as change. Clearly, the southern region of Illinois is in the midst of a recovery revolution!

Recovery Walk Illinois Photo with Mark Sanders
Walk for Recovery Southern IL image
Mark Sanders, LCSW, CADC
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