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  • Writer's pictureKevin Phillips

New Residential Facility: Planning Construction / Addressing Fears

Updated: Mar 21

We recently participated in a public hearing hosted by the Planning Divisions of the City of Fairfield. The purpose of the hearing was to invite members of the community to share their thoughts on the construction of our new residential treatment facility. The facility will be located at the corner of Heath Dr. and Peach Tree Dr. just off Air Base Parkway near the Hwy 80 interchange.

The facility is being built on a 1.7-acre vacant lot provided for the project of St. Stephen CME Church, located just to the east of the property. St. Stephen Church views their partnership with us as an expression and extension of their service to the community.

While the church views our presence in the community as a blessing, a handful of people -- and note it was just a handful -- of people came to the hearing and expressed fear of having a residential treatment facility in their neighborhood.

The anxiety on display was an echo of the fading stigma associated with Substance Use Disorder. I say "fading stigma" because we have come a long way in our understanding of SUD. Enough movies, TV shows -- even reality TV -- have been produced to educate most people that SUD is nothing to fear.

If I had time to address the handful of people who came to the hearing this is what I would tell them:

Substance use disorder is a complex condition that affects millions worldwide. According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, "among the 20.4 million people aged 12 or older with a past year SUD in 2019, 71.1 percent (or 14.5 million people) had a past year alcohol use disorder, 40.7 percent (or 8.3 million people) had a past year illicit drug use disorder, and 11.8 percent (or 2.4 million people) had both an alcohol use disorder and an illicit drug use disorder in the past year." This means 6-7% of people in the USA have been diagnosed. More have either been not diagnosed, or they are actively in the process of acquiring a SUD.

You probably know someone, and most likely more than one, who needs the treatment we provide.

Despite its prevalence, stigma and misconceptions persist in the minds of many. This both hinders people getting they help they need and shames them for a condition over which they have no control. After all, having no control is a symptom of SUD.

Here are some common fears people have about people with SUD.

Fear of Moral Failure:

One prevailing misconception about SUD is that it stems from moral weakness or lack of willpower. In truth, SUD is a multifaceted disorder influenced by genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. Blaming individuals for their condition only exacerbates their struggles and undermines their efforts to overcome the problem. To nurture an understanding of SUD as a medical condition rather than a moral failing, you can foster a sense of empathy and support for those grappling with SUD.

Fear of Unpredictability:

Another common fear is the perception that individuals with SUD are unpredictable or dangerous. While it's true that substance misuse can lead to risky behavior, this again is a symptom of the disorder, not everyone with SUD poses a threat, and if they do, the threat is due to their behavior while under the influence. Like anyone else, they seek understanding and compassion rather than judgment. By dismantling the stereotype of the "dangerous addict," we can create environments -- and neighborhoods -- that create effective support systems that help people heal.

Fear of Enabling:

There's a fine line between supporting someone with SUD and enabling their behavior. While it's crucial to offer assistance and encouragement, enabling involves facilitating destructive patterns of substance use. Fear of enabling sometimes prevents loved ones from offering support, leading to further isolation and distress for individuals with SUD. Education and communication can empower loved ones to provide constructive support without enabling harmful behaviors.

Fear of Relapse:

Relapse is a common occurrence in the recovery journey. It is often met with disappointment and judgment rather than understanding and encouragement. Fear of relapse can deter individuals from seeking help or persisting in their recovery efforts. It's essential to recognize relapse as a setback rather than a failure, emphasizing the importance of ongoing support and resilience in the face of challenges. By fostering a supportive and non-judgmental environment, we can help individuals navigate the ups and downs of recovery with courage and determination.

A public hearing with the City Planning Department is not the right forum for addressing people's fears and misconceptions about SUD. But addressing fears and misconceptions is crucial to the work we do. In fostering empathy, understanding, and support, and by challenging stigma we create communities where individuals feel empowered to seek help, pursue recovery, and build a more hopeful future.


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