David Stoecker has reaped numerous rewards from his decision to make the transition from addiction counselor to full-time recovery advocate. Further validation will come next month when Stoecker, the advocacy and education outreach coordinator for the Missouri Recovery Network, will receive a Voice Award from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Addiction Professional profiled Stoecker in 2014 as he began to demonstrate the influence that individuals in recovery can have on reshaping public attitudes about addiction. Then the director of the Springfield, Mo.-based community organization Better Life in Recovery while still working as a clinician, Stoecker now devotes all of his time to educating Missourians, from legislators to sober home operators to the general public.
“I really fell in love with macro work,” says Stoecker. “It's nice to be able to move around the state to advocate, and to educate people.”
Stoecker will be honored on Aug. 8 at the Voice Awards ceremony at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). SAMHSA's awards pay tribute to recovery champions and to television and film professionals who inform the public about behavioral health.
For Stoecker, and others who take a similar path in the field, the work is not easy and the outcomes often can be frustrating. Having been rescued from overdose and having experienced other near-death moments, Stoecker feels the sting when, for example, a hospital employee being trained in administering naloxone is overheard telling a colleague that maybe he should just let natural selection take its course in dealing with addicts.
And while the advocacy community in Missouri is helped by the presence of legislative champions at the state level, stigma persists there as well, Stoecker says. During recent debate on Good Samaritan legislation to legally protect bystanders who help an overdose victim, one legislator characterized what was being proposed as “giving dopers a 'get out of jail free card,'” he recalls.
Stoecker's community work began with Better Life in Recovery, an effort he started around a year into his own recovery as he felt a need to reach more people in his professional life. More recently he co-founded the Springfield Recovery Community Center, where individuals in recovery can gather to attend recovery meetings and participate in other prosocial activities.
Two items that remain high on Stoecker's advocacy wish list are insurance parity at the state level and access to clean syringes for injection drug users. A great deal of work remains, he says.
“This can be a pretty thankless job,” he says. “If you're doing it for accolades, you might want to look for another thing to do.” But he hopes that receiving the national award might encourage others who are thinking of stepping into the advocacy arena.
Addiction professionals annually convene at the National Conference on Addiction Disorders to share what’s working: Clinicians hear from thought leaders on delivering treatment, while executives of behavioral healthcare organizations learn how to run more effective, more efficient, and ethically minded businesses.