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As a community, Bloomington-Normal does a lot of things right. The Twin Cities offer a good quality of life, good schools, culture, recreation, job opportunities, and more. Like a lot of communities, though, McLean County has missed the mark in caring for people who struggle with substance abuse.

For many years, we — like so many other communities — viewed drug and alcohol abuse as an acute condition. Our solution was to create programs to deal with people’s destructive behaviors when they were under the influence.

In the field of substance abuse treatment, the thinking has changed. We know now that substance abuse is an ongoing condition marked by relapse and remission over time. It must be approached differently if people are to be successful in sustained sobriety. People suffering from substance abuse can and do recover, but they need the support of their families and their communities.

Two dozen local organizations have joined Chestnut Health Systems to put programs and systems in place to support people striving for sustained remission from substance abuse. This Recovery Oriented Systems of Care (ROSC) Council incorporates health care, the recovery community, higher education, government, criminal justice, the LGBTQ community and social service agencies.

Importantly, the Council includes local residents who have experienced substance abuse and are working toward recovery. Funded by the Illinois Department of Human Services, the groups have identified gaps in services, supports, and resources to help people to not just sustain recovery, but to live the best lives possible.

The ROSC council has concluded that McLean County lacks opportunities for sober and safe recreation, lacks recovery awareness and education, and lacks general support to address the challenges that people in recovery face, including access to child care, employment, transportation and peer support.

The council's work is important on several levels. Its aim is to unify the community around recovery solutions and education. Its members will play integral roles in helping to educate the community along with families of people in recovery and to reduce stigma. And its work involves removing barriers and providing whole-person support for those who are recovering.

Often, people who live with substance abuse hit bottom before they start on the road to remission. That means rebuilding virtually every aspect of their lives once recovery begins. As they envision the promise of recovery, they desire to work, provide for their family, have a nice home, enjoy a social life without drugs and alcohol, and help others. Ideally, their community will give them a second (and sometimes a third or fourth) chance.

How will we get there? The council will continue to build the coalition with representation from as many voices as possible. Increasing the availability and variety of sober living options and stable housing will require collaboration with agencies that provide treatment as well as businesses, developers and property owners.

Collaboration will be needed to provide recreation for both adolescents and adults outside of bars or areas where alcohol is served. The council foresees education and communication to increase opportunities and support and to decrease stigma. Ideally, recovery community organizations would be created and funded to carry out key goals.

As the ROSC identifies solutions, people in recovery will benefit from more options and support, fewer barriers to sustained recovery, reduced stigma, and improved self-image. The community will benefit by more economic productivity, reduced crime, reduced spending on emergency services and courts, and stronger families.

All of our community members deserve the opportunity to live a happy, healthy life and it is the goal of the ROSC to help them achieve it.

Hartman is vice president of behavioral health for Bloomington-based Chestnut Health Systems.

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