Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin Supports Recovery
by John Lavitt
When you Google the phrase “women in recovery,” the number one offering is a recent Oklahoma state program, Women in Recovery (WIR), championed by Governor Mary Fallin. This program is one of several that illustrate Governor Fallin’s dedication to addressing the substance use disorder problems that plague her state. In addition to WIR, Fallin has shown her commitment to helping women by proactively supporting programs in Oklahoma such as ReMerge.
Understanding that women are the bedrock of the family unit and seeing too many children thrown into the foster care system due to parents with substance use disorder-related issues, Governor Fallin decided that enough was enough. Though a conservative Republican, she views the drug epidemic as a bipartisan issue. Ultimately, her number one goal in providing treatment and recovery services is to protect the health and wellbeing of Oklahoma citizens.
Speaking with In Recovery Magazine, Governor Fallin shared:
“I have seen too many of my friends and their families affected by this drug epidemic. Too many have lost loved ones and too many young lives have been derailed. Today, I am happy to see a bipartisan movement across this country to address this problem. I believe positive steps are being taken by this movement and lives are being saved.”
Given Oklahoma’s bleak drug abuse statistics, a movement was desperately needed. From 2007 to 2013, three out of four unintentional poisoning deaths in the state were due to prescription drug overdoses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Oklahoma ranked number one in 2012 in the number of painkiller prescriptions per 100 people. Despite Oklahoma’s continued high rank in a 2016 CDC prescription drug infographic (number five out of 50 states), the state has shown improvement over the past few years, which is a clear testament to the difference Governor Fallin’s programs have made.
From drug courts to treatment programs, Governor Mary Fallin is taking steps to address the drug crisis in her state. While passionate about law enforcement, she is even more fervent about protecting the health and welfare of her constituents.
When asked her perspective on the positive shift, Governor Fallin said,
“I do know that treatment and recovery services are important because they work in practice. We want to encourage people with addiction issues to get the help they need. The role I knew the state could effectively play was through educational programs and prevention efforts. By getting out the message that addiction threatens everyone, we could raise awareness about this problem and move forward. When people looked at Oklahoma, I didn’t want them to only see these addiction issues and prescription drug problems. I wanted them to see that there is a solution as well. Our programs have become models for other states across the nation.”
To address prescription drug abuse, Governor Fallin approved House Bill 1948, the first bill she signed into law in 2015. The bill was specifically written to reduce “doctor shopping,” the abusive practice of potential addicts seeking the same prescription drugs from more than one physician. The law also is designed to reduce reliance on, and inappropriate use of, prescription opioids. It requires doctors to check a Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP) database before writing prescriptions for potentially addictive drugs such as OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet and other opioids. By checking the database when they prescribe a controlled substance, doctors can reduce the likelihood of patients abusing the system.
WIR was one of the first recovery programs of its kind in the nation. Launched before Governor Fallin took office, WIR is an evidence-based alternative to incarceration for women facing significant prison sentences in Tulsa County for non-violent, drug-related offenses. The vast majority of women in this program have a history of alcohol abuse and addiction issues while also being mothers. Their families have been torn apart by the disease of addiction. Since taking office, Governor Fallin has made a concerted effort to support this innovative program.
An intensive outpatient alternative for eligible women, WIR is operated in partnership with the George Kaiser Family Foundation. By working in conjunction with the criminal justice system, WIR helps to ensure that program participants receive substance abuse and mental health treatment, educational options and workforce readiness training, as well as family reunification services.
WIR helps women caught in dire straits to face their addiction issues and recover from the trauma that often lurks behind the veil of addiction. This program takes women beyond the storm of their current life crisis and into the sunlight of positive mobility. It helps them acquire the essential economic, emotional and social tools they need to build successful lives.
Governor Fallin believes treatment programs like WIR will help individuals caught in the criminal justice system’s generational vise to evolve into productive, taxpaying citizens. As a fiscal conservative, she appreciates that such evidence-based programs have proven to be more cost-effective than incarceration while also improving public safety.
When she came into office, the governor was troubled by the disturbing fact that Oklahoma was ranked number one for female incarceration per capita in the United States. Nearly 80% of Oklahoma’s incarcerated women were nonviolent offenders, and the majority of them were in Oklahoma Correctional Facilities because of drug abuse issues. When combining these statistics with the grim reality that children with an incarcerated mother are five times more likely to end up in prison themselves, she knew the problem in Oklahoma was serious.
The traditional 30-day addiction rehab model has been shown time and again to be ineffective because it frequently does not address the history of trauma that often lurks behind addiction issues. Aware of this connection, Governor Fallin has spoken positively about programs that offer extended treatment where trauma can be addressed. ReMerge is one such program. It focuses on providing extended treatment while addressing trauma. Fallin has made a definitive effort to get nonviolent offenders out of the criminal ensnarement of the 21st century prison system, and into treatment programs through the institution of drug courts.
During her administration, Governor Fallin has supported the establishment of additional treatment and diversion programs like ReMerge, explaining how they can effectively respond to the drug addiction issues in Oklahoma:
“ReMerge is a comprehensive female diversion program designed to transform women and mothers facing incarceration into productive citizens. It has also been applied to people that have addiction issues, and they are given a choice by a judge or a district attorney: they can either go to prison or they can go into this treatment program that also helps them get an education. We also provide them access to an extended treatment program that gives them much better success at achieving long-term recovery. We offer counseling services to help put their families back together. We teach them how to get ready for work, how to show up on time, how to write a resume, do a job interview and other needed skills. It’s a comprehensive system that we have used when it comes to treatment and recovery services. It’s a form of community sentencing that is designed to work.”
The governor’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative provides a viable alternative for nonviolent offenders. She emphasized this issue in her 2015 State of the State address: “Oklahoma must ramp up its ‘smart on crime’ policies, including the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, designed to intervene for low-risk, nonviolent offenders and more readily offer alternatives such as drug, veterans’ and mental health courts.”
When asked about the importance of recovery initiatives, she thoughtfully replied,
“The scourge of drugs in our nation is truly a plague. It goes so far beyond substance abuse issues just being trendy or sexy. We have to keep pounding the public education message that help is available. It can be very dangerous if you even experiment with substances, and currently there’s a low rate of recovery for addicts. We want to save lives.”
From drug courts to treatment programs, Governor Mary Fallin taking steps to address the drug crisis in her state. While passionate about law enforcement, she is even more fervent about protecting the health and welfare of her constituents. This is what makes her special.
John Lavitt, growing up in New York City as a stutterer, embraced writing as a way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the American poet Robert Lax (1913-2000). John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup for the Soul and poems in poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John presently works as the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix.