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Departing leader: Recovery advocates have earned their place

December 12, 2008
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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The outgoing national field director of Faces and Voices of Recovery believes the hard work recovery advocates have done on issues such as parity and voter mobilization has changed the attitudes of once-doubting policy-makers.

“Policy-makers didn’t necessarily view us as a constituency of consequence before,” says Tom Coderre, a former Rhode Island state senator who will leave Faces and Voices to become the state Senate’s chief of staff in January. “We started out doing rallies, and they were somewhat effective to tell our stories, but policy-makers wanted to know other things, like, `Are they registered? Are they educated on the issues? Do they cast ballots?’”

Coderre worked at Faces and Voices for two years, earning accolades for efforts in working with local recovery groups, involving members of the recovery community in election-year issues, and helping sustain momentum for federal parity legislation. He admits his decision to leave is “bittersweet” but says it also reflects what the recovery movement ultimately wants for all of its members: the opportunity to follow their dreams.

He says provider agencies and other groups in the addiction community always welcomed him to their discussions, expressing a sense of relief that people in recovery were becoming an organized presence that could back them in their advocacy pursuits. He thinks the parity victory “has propelled us to a very different place,” and he urges the recovery community to stay vigilant during implementation of parity regulations and in the coming debates on healthcare reform.

Coderre says the up-and-down experiences that led to the final victory on parity taught recovery advocates about how they can compromise in some areas but still fight for what they essentially need. He intends to remain an active member of the community locally.

Coderre’s appointment to the chief of staff position in his home state has not been without controversy, as some have criticized Rhode Island legislative leaders’ staff spending under difficult fiscal conditions. Yet there is a somewhat uplifting message here as well, in that Coderre had feared that perhaps his addiction and recovery would be the more prominent issue affecting his appointment.

“When you’re going through it, you feel that it will be the nail in your coffin,” he says of addiction. Instead, even critics of his salary say his personal story is compelling, and they express no concerns about his past. It is another sign that the recovery movement has made great strides.

Click here for more on Coderre.

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