The story of Abbie Stenberg had all the variables necessary to end in tragedy. Abbie was prescribed an opioid from a sports related injury when she was 16 and subsequently developed a dependency on the drug. Her life spiraled out of control as she progressed from prescription pills to heroin. Addicted to heroin and homeless, she was alienated from all of those around her. Abbie’s life seemed to have reached rock bottom. With nothing left to lose, Abbie went to Anchor Recovery, a community center dedicated to helping those who have fallen victim to substance abuse. Five years have passed, and Abbie now works at Anchor Recovery as a peer recovery coach where she is helping to start a preventative program for youths this year. I was truly moved by her story, which she shared while I was visiting Anchor Recovery with the United States Surgeon General Vice Admiral Jerome Adams.
Anchor Recovery Community Center, located in Downtown Pawtucket, opened in December 2010 at a time when Rhode Island had the highest number of substance abuse cases per capita of any state with minimal treatment options outside of intensive residential or hospital care. Since its opening, Anchor Recovery has expanded to a second location in Warwick and offers a variety of resources to its members including: employment help, twelve step programs and peer recovery.
Senator Whitehouse, Rhode Island Department of Health Director Dr. Alexander-Scott, and other members of the Rhode Island community who are actively combating the opioid epidemic joined the Surgeon General for the visit. During our roundtable discussion, all panel members emphasized the need to help individuals struggling with addiction and discussed the most effective programs currently in place. The Surgeon General assured us of his commitment to fighting the opioid crisis at the national and local levels, and he praised the collective efforts of the Rhode Island community to combat the epidemic.
After visiting Anchor Recovery Community Center, I took part in a discussion with Governor Gina Raimondo’s Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force. Since its inception in 2015, the task force has successfully updated the state’s acute pain management regulations to minimize unnecessary prescribing of opioids for acute pain and implemented new pharmacy point-of-sale regulations to ensure prescriptions comply with the regulations. They have also ensured that communities have an ample supply of naloxone and that peer and recovery support services are available across the state. While these initiatives will be instrumental in reducing the crisis in Rhode Island, there is substantial room to improve recovery treatments — a notion that the Surgeon General agreed with.
The substance abuse epidemic is too important to be dealt with solely at one level of government. I am proud of the efforts of our local Rhode Island community, and I will continue to support their efforts in every way I can in Washington, D.C.