Common Agenda Needed for Substance Abuse Policy

    • July 23, 2009

Paul N. Samuels, JD
Director and President
Legal Action Center
New York, N.Y.

Programee background: Paul N. Samuels, JD, has been a leading legal advocate for sensible national and state policies aimed at reducing drug and alcohol abuse. The Legal Action Center, which Samuels directs, fights discrimination against people with histories of addiction, AIDS and criminal activity, and advocates for sound public policies in these areas.

The award: In 2002, Samuels received an Innovators Combating Substance Abuse award to help substance abuse researchers and practitioners and people in the substance abuse recovery community develop unified positions on important issues, create a common policy agenda and improve their capacity to influence policies. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) created the Innovators program to nurture and promote innovation in combating substance abuse. Between 2000 and 2003, some 20 senior researchers, practitioners and policy-makers received Innovators awards.

The results: Samuels reported the following results of his project to RWJF:

  • Diverse coalitions of agencies and recovery groups came together to develop common positions and a strategy for communicating them. Areas of agreement included steps that can be taken to combat stigma and discrimination against people in recovery, the need for welfare reform programs to promote treatment, and problems that treatment programs face in recruiting and retaining staff.
  • At a January 2003 meeting held in Washington, representatives of 15 national organizations agreed to develop a joint public policy agenda. At May 2003 and May 2004 "summits," representatives of national alcohol and drug organizations reaffirmed the need for a common agenda and outlined key themes for that agenda.
  • Several bulletins and 68 updates issued by the Legal Action Center's Washington Weekly Round-Up were circulated to people in the substance abuse field, the recovery community, policy-makers and the media. These bulletins and updates covered topics such as:
    • The federal Access to Recovery plan for alcohol and drug treatment vouchers.
    • Funding priorities for substance abuse prevention, treatment and research.
    • Parity in insurance coverage for substance abuse treatment.
  • More than 100 methadone advocates and about 125 recovery advocates received training in strategies for participating in public debates about issues related to substance abuse.