In this enlightening episode, host Dave Closson engages in a profound conversation with David Best, a professor of addiction recovery and director of the Centre for Addiction Recovery Research, and Mulka Nisic, a project manager and PhD researcher, about the transformative concept of Inclusive Recovery Cities. This initiative aims to foster communities where recovery from addiction is not only visible and celebrated but also integrated into the fabric of society, enhancing citizenship and mutual support.

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Key Topics Discussed:

  • Introduction to Inclusive Recovery Cities: David Best outlines the genesis of the Inclusive Recovery Cities initiative, its aims, and the significant impact it has had in various communities around the globe.
  • The Balkan Recovery Project: Mulka Nisic shares insights into the challenges and successes of implementing recovery initiatives in the Balkans, highlighting the importance of community and governmental support.
  • The Power of Recovery Celebrations: The guests discuss the role of public events in promoting recovery, challenging stigma, and fostering a sense of belonging and citizenship among those in recovery.
  • Global Recovery Position Paper: Mulka and David delve into the findings from their research, emphasizing the importance of a strengths-based approach, overcoming barriers, and the necessity for systemic change to support recovery.
  • Starting Conversations in Local Communities: Practical advice for listeners interested in advocating for or establishing an Inclusive Recovery City in their communities.

Episode Highlights:

  • Recovery as a Source of Pride: The episode explores how recovery can shift from being stigmatized to a celebrated aspect of identity, contributing positively to communities.
  • Strengths-Based Recovery: The discussion emphasizes focusing on individuals’ strengths rather than deficits, fostering resilience, and supporting personal growth.
  • Challenges and Solutions: Insights into overcoming obstacles such as stigma, policy gaps, and the need for comprehensive support systems for people in recovery.
  • Call to Action: Encouragement for listeners to read the Global Recovery Position Paper, endorse the initiative, and engage in creating inclusive recovery environments in their locales.

Episode Links:


Dave Closson: In today’s world where the journey of recovery from addiction is often shrouded in stigma and isolation. There emerges of beacon of hope and solidarity. The inclusive recovery cities initiative. Stands as a Testament to what communities can achieve. When they come together to support. Celebrate. And integrate recovery into the very fabric of society. This initiative. Not only challenges existing stigmas. But it also showcases the immense potential of individuals in recovery to contribute positively to their communities. Joining us in this enlightened conversation today are two remarkable guests. First we have David Best. Uh, professor of addiction recovery, and the director of the center for addiction recovery research, who has dedicated his career. To understanding and promoting the concept of recovery capital. Alongside and we have a project manager and PhD researcher who brings a wealth of experience from her work in drug policy. And recovery. From across nine European countries. Together. We’ll explore the origins. And the aims of the inclusive recovery cities initiative. Delve into the challenges and the successes of implementing recovery projects. Share a cases story from the Balkans. And discuss the global movement towards recognizing and celebrating recovery. Our guests will share insights from the research. Including the importance of a strengths based approach. The necessity of overcoming barriers and the critical need for systemic change to support individuals in recovery. So, whether you’re someone in recovery, a supporter, a policymaker, or simply interested in how communities can become more inclusive and supportive this episode promises. To offer valuable perspectives. And practical advice on making a tangible difference. So join us on this journey of understanding. Of celebration and change. Welcome to a global recovery conversation. The Vision, a world where all people live free of the burden of drug abuse. This is the Drug Free America Foundation’s Pathway to Prevention podcast, where we are committed to developing strategies that prevent drug use and promote sustained recovery. Thank you for not only tuning in, but your continued support and efforts to help make this world a better place. We hope you enjoy this episode. I am excited to welcome my friends to come back and have yet another amazing conversation with me. And to get things started, david, would you mind introducing yourself for us?

David Best: Thank you so much, Dave. My name is David Best. I am professor of addiction recovery at Leeds Trinity University in Leeds in the UK, and I’m director of the new Centre for Addiction Recovery Research. And this is really the culmination of 10 or 15 years of work. my focus has been on various aspects of recovery, but particularly recovery capital. I, you know, I’m, I am a recovery academic, so I have roles in the UK, two in Australia, and one in America. So I do a lot of recovery research in various places, and I’m pleased to say that I’m one of the co founders of the College of Lived Experience Recovery Organizations in the UK. And also, as we will talk about, one of the co founders of the Inclusive Recovery Cities movement. So, that’s a quick overview of what I do. Mulka

Mulka Nisic: so much, Dave, for inviting us today. My name is Moka Nesic, and similarly like David, I hold multiple roles. I’m currently a project manager at the University of Leicester in the UK, but also doing my PhD research in nine European countries. I am involved in drug policy area And I’ve been there for quite a, uh, more than a decade and I serve on multiple, civil society forums and, I’m a secretary general of Recovered users Network RAN.

Dave Closson: So much passion and so much wisdom here in this virtual recording studio today. I wish, I wish we had a lot of time so I could just ask questions and explore and learn about all the things that y’all are doing, but I got to tell you in our emailing back and forth, there’s really one thing that jumped out and I just leaned forward on the edge of my seat. And said, I want to know more about that one, just intrigued. I’m not really familiar with it, but to being in recovery myself, it’s like made me want to know more and be a part of it. And. That topic is inclusive recovery cities. Please, please, please tell me all things about that. What, what does that mean? What does that look like? How can we help this grow? I want more. So what are inclusive recovery cities?

David Best: Thank you, Dave. So, I’ll kick off and then we’ll jointly do a bit about where we’re up to now. So, really the idea dates back So about 2017, 2018, and it’s a strange genesis because initially we had three cities which had interest in public events and public activations of recovery support. They were Doncaster in the UK, where we had the Recovery Games, which is a wonderful kind of open sports festival event that attracts several thousand people from all across the UK. We have Genton in Belgium, where the co author of the initial paper on recovery cities, Professor Charlotte Coleman is based. And we had Gothenburg in Sweden, and Malka and I were fortunate enough to work with people in Gothenburg on some really exciting and innovative stuff around How recovery is promoted and championed, and it initially led us to, to basically kind of develop in our research paper, which we published in 2018, where we tried to highlight some key areas about the public expression of recovery. It kind of went a little bit dormant after that. And Malka will tell you about the phenomenal job she has done in mobilizing things in the, the Balkan region, but before she does, I’m just going to say a bit about what the aims are, and what led us to a major event in Middlesbrough last year that really has been the catalyst for where we are now. So, essentially, why? What is the history of recovery that we, that we are trying to capture here? So I guess, you know, if you go back a number of years, we have, and, and one of the ironies, incidentally, is that Akron, Ohio, the birthplace of AA, has just contacted me and asked about becoming a inclusive recovery city, which has a wonderful circularity. So there’s a lady there called Chyna Darrington. Who is keen to bring inclusive recovery cities to Akron, Ohio. So that’s really exciting. So, essentially, what’s the point? Let me go back to the history lesson briefly. We can almost kind of go for three phases. A first phase for recovery was very much anonymous. It was something you didn’t talk about. It was stigmatized. It was hidden. And then as characterized in the film The Anonymous People. There was a fairly unsuccessful attempt and then a growing successful attempt at bringing recovery out of the church basement and out of the closet and making it something that was a source of pride. And I guess we’ve gradually evolved in the last 25 years, probably through this century, to see this proliferation, particularly in the U. S. And I guess all of us have to say, This has been to some extent a US driven thing with collegiate recovery programs, recovery high schools, recovery clubhouses, recovery cafes, and now with recovery friendly workplaces that, you know, we’re seeing recovery much, much more visible and accessible. And that really brings us to the aims of what we are doing. So really for us, there are four primary aims. That an inclusive recovery city has to agree to host four public events. that are directed not just at the recovery community, but to the wider community. Why? Because the aims are to celebrate and publicize recovery as an achievement and something that’s visible, viable, and possible. In doing so, to increase pathways to all kinds of community resources, to challenge stigma and exclusion and marginalization by increasing contact and increase in awareness. of the recovery community. And I think the crucial big step for us, which I think is, is new, is to recognize the contribution the recovery community makes to citizenship. That it’s not about asking people to be nice to an excluded population, but we call it reciprocal altruism. The idea being very much that the recovery community has a lot to give. And when we did the first UK life and recovery survey in 2015, Dave, we found that 79 percent of people in long term recovery in the UK volunteered and actively contributed to their community. That’s more than twice the rate for the general public. And so it has become a phenomenally exciting initiative and in the last year or so, we, we launched in Middlesbrough, which is a really, dynamic recovery community that has a recovery cafe, a recovery restaurant, a recovery florist, a collegiate recovery program, and we had an event in the football stadium last May, and since then, it has really exploded, and I guess we’ll come back to that story briefly, but I’m going to hand over to Mulka, because really, To some extent, in the years between 2018 and 2023, it was the efforts in the Balkan countries that kind of kept the torch aflame. And it’s really only in the last year or so that we’ve seen this massive explosion of interest that now ranges from the US to South Africa to the UK to Europe and so on.

Mulka Nisic: Perfect. Thank you, David, for your introduction. Um, well, as David said, when they published the paper, Uh, myself and linda nielsen, who was at the time the Secretary General of world Federation Against Drugs. we, we just saw this as a great possibility for us to do something meaningful in the Balkans, which is really historically uh, stigmatizing and discriminatory environment for people in recovery and recovery services were not so available. Even the word recovery was not kind of present in, in policy and practice. It was always a treatment or, you know, chasing addiction or something like that. So we uh, kind of brought in into David’s idea of involving multidisciplinary teams around the city and we created this three year project. Also by, uh, or co funded by the World Federation Against Drugs. we aim to this, these uh, to tackle stigmatization and to make recovery uh, and attractive actually to people for them to get engaged, to partner up with us, but also to influence the policies uh, to, to make this, Um, a notion of recovery acceptable to the policymakers in strategies in practices around recovery and also referrals of people in recovery. uh, We will have probably three three cities in each of the countries. And those countries are Bosnia, Montenegro, and Serbia. And These initiatives were driven by the local recovery organizations, Celebrate Recovery, um, Izalezak and Preporod, and we couldn’t have been able to do this without them because, as you know, I mean, initiatives just are Exciting, but there is no one to lead them and there is no one to carry the torch, as David said, so we managed to get the money for this for three years, which is which was just amazing. But we were to some extent stopped by the pandemic. It was at the same time the project started at the same time as pandemic. So we were not really able to hold as many in person meetings as possible. And as we planned, but we um, I think made an impact to the Balkan area and it included recovery celebration campaigns for World Drug Day groups for women only for who, for homeless people, we established helplines and websites in each of the countries and we had of um, Charitable events, especially the one that really is amazing is Christmas in the city where the coffees and lunches were provided for homeless people and people in recovery who really needed this. And I just want to say that this is a model that’s not Like David always says, McDonald’s. So we couldn’t really replicate what was happening in Doncaster, Gothenburg or or again. But we needed to kind of uh, adapt this to the local resources. We did A, B, C, D mapping. We, uh, we tried to really adapt the model to what was happening in the Balkan area. And we established these multidisciplinary teams. And the process was really amazing. And each of the country was very unique. the the biggest success was in Serbia because the Serbian government really liked idea. Uh, and. Also in Serbia, recovery was not visible, was not recognized as a way out of addiction. So they joined the forces with us. also, also, uh, organized all of these meetings. And in the end, from planned 12 cities across the region, we managed to establish 14 multidisciplinary teams working towards these cities. And, and. The initiatives are just amazing and, um, inspiring and it, it was from, you know, just providing monthly support to people in rehab to, I don’t know, uh, drivers who will take people to the PCs, which were remotely situated or something like that. And this work has really changed how the governments in in these areas see recovery and see recovery cities or partnership at the local levels. Because Especially in those kind of areas, compared to UK everything was focused on the big cities. So I uh, for us, it was very, very significant that we had the governmental support in doing these initiatives.

David Best: I think the other thing I’d like to say, Dave, if you don’t mind, is one of the things that’s happened in America has been the the recovery oriented systems of care movement and about 15 years ago, William White wrote an incredibly insightful, inspiring monograph on recovery oriented systems of care. And then it was followed up by a SAMHSA document and by a book edited by John Kelly and William White. But all of it was very much about linking and coordinating professional services. very much. How do professional services create the conditions? Well, for us, the whole idea of the Inclusive Recovery Cities model is to say, that is great, but the movement has to be owned and driven by recovery community organizations, or as we call them in the UK, LEROs, Lived Experience Recovery Organization. They are at the heart of this. And the ultimate goal is to maximize the, the sense of reciprocal mutual benefit where the recovery community actively contributes to the wider community and vice versa. It’s a fair exchange. And I think the other thing that’s so important for me for this movement is there are all kinds of incredibly innovative recovery things going on in virtually every town and city, but we don’t know about them. And as somebody who’s dedicated my work and life to study and recovery, it’s both. An excitement and a frustration that I go and visit somewhere new and discover they’ve got this incredibly exciting initiative or exciting activity and nobody knows about it. And so one of the things we want to do is to promote, celebrate and champion those things. And we have our first American city, North American city launches. On the 19th of March, which is Beckley in West Virginia. So we are, this model is growing and developing all the time. You know, we, we, we, we have had such excitement. And I guess I’ll just pass back to Malka to say this. It genuinely is recovery contagion at a community level. Yeah. Yeah.

Mulka Nisic: And, uh, what was happening also because we are so involved in the kind of global movement around policy and advocacy in recovery, the excitement we feel, I think, is spreading as well, you know, and I was talking about this on our meetings, we have established the gender, global gender committee, and I have shared this with the, with the ladies from around the world. We have now interest from South Africa, and they also are doing many amazing things but it’s not under an umbrella idea or umbrella organization. And I think that’s something that we will build in future to kind of gather all of this. and it’s not like we didn’t have many obstacles. There always are many challenges around recovery organizations being part of something bigger and politically influential because they are focused on people. They want to really Um, improve the, services for people. But when this idea came, this was a game changer also for their involvement in policy. And I think that this is something innovative in terms of how to involve them. And, uh, it’s not enough, to, to make the treatment better. That’s a message for us to send to them. practitioners and policy makers. We need more efforts to tackle stigma and to make recovery visible to celebrate it. And for this to be a kind of essential method to maximize the changes of stable recovery and greater inclusion of people in local events and celebration. And that’s really important for smaller communities like the balkan. community.

Dave Closson: I am just picturing feeling what it would be like to be a resident to live in an inclusive recovery city and what it feels like to me. So this is my own interpretation. It’s going to shift the, the culture to one, to where folks in recovery feel like they belong, feel like they are a part of the community for me, that not feeling like I fit in, not feeling like I belonged both in active addiction and also in recovery is hard. And so just changing that feeling, ah, it just feels like a hug does.

David Best: And I think, look, I think that’s such a big thing is to feel. a sense of belonging, to feel a sense of value, and to feel like a contributor that you make. So one of the things Malka and I are currently working on is a paper about what are the point, what’s the point of recovery celebrations. And a big part of it is citizenship about the creating that sense of both citizenship and a sense of belonging, but civics and doing things that benefit not just the recovery community, but the ripple out into the wider community. And ideally, we we want this model to be something where It touches every vulnerable, marginalized, and excluded group in your community. And, and I hope that anyone listening to this will be thinking, maybe we already are well on the way to being an inclusive recovery city. Maybe we do a lot of these things, because I don’t think for Malka, myself, and our other colleagues, This is about creating something magical. It’s about coordinating and building on the magic that already happens in places.

Dave Closson: Beautiful. And for those listeners that are intrigued, and i, I wonder if we could be a, an inclusive recovery city. Where do they start?

David Best: Well, they start by contacting any of us. Just get in touch with any of us through your pod or contact us by email or You know, look us up on LinkedIn and, and get in touch with us. we’d be more than happy to speak to people. We can send you an introductory pack. We have an introductory pack that tells you how to go about setting up an inclusive recovery city, what you need to do to set up your inclusive recovery city charter. We’d be delighted to support

Dave Closson: oh, beautiful. Listeners. Check the show notes for links. And, uh, yes, absolutely. Now, Mulka, you mentioned you had some challenges in the Balkans., you know, when I ask you you, know, what are a couple that really just come to mind? Like, Ooh. Yeah. Beautiful. That was a challenge. Can you share one or two of those with us?

Mulka Nisic: definitely. Well, the biggest challenge was actually, Promoting this, in especially Bosnia, which is really a complicated political system and multiple levels of governments that really didn’t know how to approach this. um, it wasn’t only how to approach it, but how to support this because we didn’t have a drug strategy with recovery in it. So they were not familiar. what recovery means, uh, how they can support it. What’s the role of recovery organizations? And as you know, I mean, traditionally recovery has been seen as something opposite to treatment. I mean, to some extent it is different. Of course, it’s happening in the community and people are supported to grow in their local neighborhoods. families and, and to use the resources of the community compared to treatment. But I think, the, the biggest obstacle for us was the lack of those, policies and procedures, how to do the outreach, how to promote this among service users or in detox, for example, how to make this, uh, integral part of the continuum of care and all of those things. And especially we had lots of problems in, um, multiple disadvantaged and marginalized population, like women, like homeless people, like people who are out of jails. They just didn’t know how to get involved. the stigma was definitely one of the biggest obstacles anything, any initiative. We were not supported to do much. But I must say that it could be also that the timing was a little bit unfortunate due to pandemic and that probably if it was, you know, this This time of the year or this year, it would be much different.

Dave Closson: Just the, the pandemic, one challenge, one obstacle, but then that the policy gap and stigma, Like you shared, but you still made it happen. You still were able to, to bring it together. So I’m. Curious. What, what are a couple, you know, linchpins, tipping points, steps that, you know, really helped keep the work going forward?

Mulka Nisic: Well, uh, pandemic was good and bad. so we, kind of transferred everything to online, so that, was really a good thing for us. And David has. Like a wide, I would say, array of, of things that could be used for online services online, uh, inspirations for people. So we used his, cards, which are just amazing. We used another, tool, uh, which was developed I think also a colleague of David’s like online recovery games, uh, board games for people in, uh, in recovery. So we tried really hard. to engage with people in online spaces, and I think it worked really well, especially due to isolation and people feeling really completely, divided from the community and alone. So for us, that was the biggest success that we could use those resources, and I think those resources need to be promoted even more. We established online groups for women, online groups for youth, we also promoted, all of the Online A and N a group. So this was really re adapting the model. We also established the regional project board, which was composed off, multidisciplinary teams. And we tried really hard to keep up with the momentum for this not to Diminish over time, during the pandemic. So I think, we, we sometimes really underestimate the power of online, of course, in person contact and, and social networks and celebrations. They are amazing and they help the most and they engage people. But we, we need to also. Keep in mind, even now, people have traumas, people have, you know, anxieties around social events and something like that and providing these platforms like we are doing also now with inclusive recovery settings, every meeting has also an online component and that’s inclusiveness of our cities and approach.

Dave Closson: I’ve got another question about challenges. Because what I, what I see a lot at the community level when they identify that there’s a policy gap, folks tend to, to tense up and feel like that is insurmountable. What, what advice or sort of insights could you share, either of you share as it relates to, Hey, we see there’s a policy gap, so here’s how we can go about doing something.

David Best: Well, maybe if I give an example from the UK and then Mulka come in, because Malka is the policy expert, not me. So one of the things that we did at the start of the pandemic was we were conscious there was a lot of community recovery organizations who were struggling and didn’t have any network. So we set up something called the College of Lived Experience Recovery Organizations. Really with three primary aims to start with. So we were, we were concerned, as happens in lots of countries, peer based recovery community organizations get virtually no funding. They get no support. They’re not really well understood by government. So we set up with three aims to identify some of the innovations that were happening in the UK, to write and publish standards, which we actually have published this week. and to develop a research evidence base around recovery organizations. And that organization is now coming up for four years old. It was cited in the Dame Carol Black review, which was the major drug policy review. And Dame Carol Black met us online several times. And our work has now been, was cited in the UK drug strategy. And this really is a very good example of creating a Collective grassroots movement that can directly influence policy and now, the College of Lived Experience Recovery Organizations works with government to develop and write standards and to work around lived experience role in policy and practice. So, you know, it’s, it’s only from one country, but I think it’s a really, really good example. Of the power of recovery organizations when they come together and have a shared vision and mission that they are able to contribute and they are able to both raise awareness and change how policy operates.

Mulka Nisic: Great. And, um, we had these conversations among us and, um, David and I and among many colleagues who really want to contribute more to creating environments supportive of recovery. So, um, last year doing the C and D, we. Visited a couple of events and I was thinking, wow, we definitely need a consensus about what recovery is and what, how can we improve it and what would be recommendations to the government as you just asked. So I’m jumping to another question of yours and we just sat together and we. actually aim to improve how a recovery is seen and, uh, how recovery is explained to people because many people do not know what recovery is and we start every paper with those kind of, definitions about recovery, what it means, what, how can we bring it together to communities and how can we improve the policies. So I’ve started these conversations with a couple of really large networks, global networks, one of them being Recovered Users Network, World Federation Against Drug, Drug Free America Foundation, Proyecto Hombre, World Federation of Therapeutic Communities. and we just sat together and I proposed, let’s, do something. That’s really innovative around the methods of how policy, is improved. And, I propose for this to be a research approach to the policy because we have these position papers in many areas around mental health, around homelessness, around multiple social disadvantages, but actually it’s always written by one person and then people comment, say yes or no, and it’s really a one way process. So we talked about this and we agreed that we want. This to be a very, um, collaborative process and co production of something that everybody could agree with. And that’s really inclusive. That’s, just a global paper about recovery., so we met a couple of times. and we created the survey. Thank you. So this paper, the global position paper emerged from the survey. It wasn’t written by myself or David. Uh, we just collected data. Uh, and we asked all of these huge networks who had four. 100 membership, to respond what they think recovery is, what are the strengths, barriers, how is it influenced and supported in community, and how we can improve this, this initiative and then this method, uh, has really made everybody, I think, more inclusive of recovery. And it’s resulted in Almost 50 completed surveys and we analyzed all of this using thematic approach. when we created the first kind of draft, we also met in person, uh, with the core global recovery task force. And we went through this feedback and, and try to really, thematically. Analyze all of this together with them for this to be really a corporate co production. And, uh, this initial draft was created by David and myself and, some other people. And we sent this off to a group of, senior academics, esteemed professors. In in in this field of recovery for a review, so this paper has really emerged as a concept of three pillars and those pillars are strength barriers and systems needed to optimize positive effect on individuals and communities in reducing these barriers and improving outcomes of recovery. How

Dave Closson: We’ve got a little time and I’d love to kind of just unpack each of those pillars a little bit more if you would, and I know what I’ve read and how strengths, especially that pillars like Yes. Yes. Made me feel very fired up and gung ho because it’s so ingrained in my own personal stories. Can either of you kind of unpack that a little bit more? What, what did you all come up with? What’d you find out from the research?

David Best: well, there’s, I mean, there are two fundamental, if you like, philosophies or principles to strength based approaches. One is Chime, which is the combination of connections, hope, and Identity, meaning, and empowerment, and this is a very big underpinning philosophy for any strength based approach. It’s pretty much in the right order. It all starts with positive social connection that generates hope that in turn leads to people engaging in meaningful activities, developing positive identities, and feeling empowered. The second is a kind of a generic recovery capital strengths based approach, and I think One of the big philosophical changes from a clinical or medical model to a recovery model is the switch from deficits to strengths. And it’s such an important thing that, you know, we don’t start with the assumption that people have all these pathologies that need to be eliminated. We start with the assumption That we are strong, and the people we work with are strong, and we share that strength through a process of social contagion, and that’s how recovery happens., And of course people have barriers to overcome, but the fundamental mechanism for recovery is strength based, and that came across very strongly as a theme. in our work. You know, the idea of this work isn’t to replace clinical services or undermine clinical services, but to supplement them with something community focused, strength based, fundamentally social, fundamentally about strengths building.

Mulka Nisic: Yeah, and I just want to also highlight that, I mean, it was highlighted a couple of times that we should never leave anyone behind and that’s what recovery is all about. And we do understand that lots of people do not have focused on abstinence to start with, but majority of those. Seeking help do aspire to resolve their, problematic drug use or dependence and this was really something, New and a switch from, you know, those, false es be between harm reduction and recovery. And we want to wanted to highlight that recovery is not opposite to anything. It’s inclusive. And we want to help individuals build their resilience and successfully navigate their, uh, substance use disorders by using the resources from the communities and actively engaging and developing. their potential and and really being proud of their lived experience. And what it means for them to grow as persons and individuals as part of the community.

Dave Closson: I’m over here smiling and nodding because I’m also reflecting back on a quote that I heard and have held on to from my friend and colleague, Dr. Jeff Linkenbach, and it’s that the positive exists. And it’s worth growing. And I remind myself of that pretty much every single week that the positive does exist. So let’s grow the positive. And that, that’s what I’m hearing from you all too. And it just makes me happy. Makes me happy because yes. Oh, so powerful. The positive is oh, so powerful. What though did you, you uncover in the research as it relates to barriers?

David Best: Well, I think I’ll, if you don’t mind, I’ll start and then I’ll pass over to Mulka for the more detailed issue. You know, that while we need to focus primarily on strengths. We cannot ignore that there, that people will have unmet needs and barriers and that recovery is a journey and a progression for people and it’s not a linear journey, that there’s going to be barriers that people are going to meet individually, but also collectively. There are stigmas and exclusions, as we discussed in the inclusive recovery cities world. but for us, I think the barriers issue is about partnership working and about developing policies that ensure that there’s effective safety nets throughout the recovery journey. And I think the research was, was a very, very good way. Of as Malka was saying of attempting to reconcile, the recovery world and the harm reduction world in a coherent logical model that brings the two things together, really with the uncontentious aspiration of supporting people to live the best lives they possibly can and make as many self determining choices within that as possible. And the notion of self determination and choice came across in the research quite clearly.

Mulka Nisic: Yeah, and and we tried to really group this thematically because having 50 large networks provide feedback on what they think barriers or strengths are was a really tough job for us. But we clearly saw that people see stigma as one of the biggest obstacles for seeking help and also, to, to support, people to successfully integrate into the communities. Furthermore, that also reflects to the access to treatment in itself, and we need these inclusive recovery communities and in recovery cities that will support the multiple needs of, of these populations and secure things like housing, employment, education, health and social supports. and in reality, building recovery capital and promoting the community belonging and citizenship, like David said. But we also had lots of focus on vulnerable groups, especially those who are of color, women, pregnant women, especially those of children, homeless people, and You know, all of the people who have multiple needs, uh, those from criminal justice systems and prisons, especially, and people with mental health issues. And what was highlighted as a huge barrier is that not only people in recovery, uh, but also service providers need more training and training of peers, professionals, community members as a way of, you know, raising awareness about All of these things about recovery is something that was strongly highlighted in the research.

Dave Closson: I’m going to ask a personal question to, any, any research bubble up related to like military veterans?

David Best: Yeah, now, there is a small amount of research, now, I’m currently involved in a project with, uh, drug courts in America and we are extending that specifically to a couple of veterans courts, so there’s a veterans court called, Courts Assisting Military Offenders that has been really interesting. Thank you. significant in this. Now, one of the things that I don’t know whether you’re, you’re addressing specifically, this is a vulnerable group and it’s a vulnerable group because typically it’s a comorbidity that will involve substance problems and trauma. Um, and yeah, and, and one of the things I think that is a, a new kind of research interest for me, and it doesn’t really come from veterans, it comes more from working with women in recovery, and I think something that Mulka has dedicated her PhD to looking at gender differences in recovery. But one of the things that becomes really apparent is that overcoming and residual trauma is a significant challenge for a lot of people. And one of the questions I think for us is what are the, what’s the relationship between strengths based recovery and post traumatic growth? And again, I think that this whole notion of a strengths model is so important here to say we acknowledge the fact that people will have significant trauma, we acknowledge the fact that some of those events can never be reversed. But what kind of strengths based approach do to help people build resilience, build connections, build communities, and to actively have a sense of contributing and purpose and meaning in their day to day lives? And I think for us, This is going to be an increasingly important, not just research question, but practice and policy question as we move forward.

Dave Closson: I am just. Yes, like I don’t even know what I was going to talk about next because it took me right back to sitting on my living room couch in my one bedroom apartment with my journal where I just did a brain dump of writing. And that was sort of a very pivotal moment to when I started looking for my natural strengths that have been a part of my identity since I was born. And when I shifted to that strengths-based post-traumatic growth, like Yes, yes, yes, yes. Okay. I’m getting all emotional here.

David Best: And what I’m just to pick up on that, Dave, one of the things that I think we have underexplored is the incredible importance of narrative. of storytelling. And, you know, it seems to me like there are people who use narrative as a therapeutic model, as a kind of counseling model. But it seems to me the power of storytelling and recovery is incredibly important for inspiring hope. But there’s also something about storytelling as a creative form of personal growth and development. I really do think this is something that we need to think much, much more systematically about how we record and capture and share.

Dave Closson: Mm-Hmm..I had to get back in touch and find the real me because I’d gotten so far away from my authentic identity. I didn’t even know who I was. And so that was how I started to sift through and uncover it. And yes, but also speaking about storytelling. I’ve had to learn and I’m still continuing to learn how to tell my story and each time I tell it I learn more and more about myself with adds to my, my strength, my empowerment, my recovery too. Yes. That’s a whole nother episode right there.

David Best: Yeah, and I think there’s also something really important in saying I’m more than my story. Don’t just trot me out to tell my story as if I, you know, it’s like an off the shelf product and everybody, all the professionals stand up and clap and then I’m put back in my box. I think there’s something really important about How narrative is shaped and presented to make it inclusive and beneficial for the person telling the story and for those who hear it.

Dave Closson: Yes, indeed. And actually that kind of reminds me of a, uh, another conversation I had around folks, systems, organizations using individuals with lived experience for their story, and then, okay, we’re good. See you later. So what, what, did your research uncover as it relates to systems change to, to creating that structural change and culture change to really include. Be a partnership approach, not just, hey, okay, come tell your story. All right, we’re good. What’d you uncover?

David Best: So let me just have a quick go at answering that and then I’ll pass over to you, Mulka, because I’ve done too much talking recently. Which is, you know, I think for me that’s both an individual and a systemic or structural issue. For me, one of the things the College of Lived Experience and Recovery Organizations aspires to is what we’re calling parity of esteem. So that We are regarded as professionals with lived experience, not somehow lesser or less adequate or, you know, we have one very narrow pigeonhole role in this world. I think for me, the recovery community, whether we mean people in recovery or people who are affected, others have a significant contribution and an equal contribution to play. And that’s a really difficult thing to get. A lot of professionals to recognize because I think, you know, one of the other cornerstones of a recovery model is you switch from expert patient to partnership. And I think inevitably for a lot of professionals, it’s quite a big ask to say step. away from behind your professional persona and identity and be there as a real authentic person in those engagements. And you’re treating with somebody as an equal, not as a lesser. And this is a, I think you’re right, Dave, this is a pod in itself, but it’s a massive challenge for us. And I’ll let Mulka talk a little bit about how that came across in our, in our research findings.

Mulka Nisic: Thank you, David. Well, there was a clear recognition that overcoming barriers and building on strengths. Requires change in the systems, policies and, practice, and, uh, it’s it’s actually so much linked to the notion of inclusive recovery cities and the concept of recovery oriented systems of care that need to build public engagement and kind of active citizenship as building blocks of society. And, um, it’s it’s also what David already said. Building partnership model to recognize this process and then, , support personalized pathways to recovery to to accommodate all of these changing needs of individuals across the recovery process, and it’s also the role of lived experience and, um. Also, not only fellowships, but making recovery visible in the communities And, developing each of these kind of local communities in its own right. And, uh, what we also, recognize is that There is a need to, to collaborate between and with academics, practitioners, people with lived experience. And then we need to kind of build this as an empirically driven and culturally sensitive if you want infrastructure for recovery to grow. But, also, I mean, Funding is fundamental for many of these recovery organizations, and we can’t really expect that they will provide all of these services without funding, and so the governments really need to recognize this, and I think optimizing these outcomes developing a system of really outcomes of recovery that are in line with what’s happening with people in the communities and what’s really encompassing all of the recovery process challenges and barriers is something that’s very much needed.

Dave Closson: Absolutely. And with the paper, you’ve got, if I recall, three recommendations as well for, for folks, is that correct?

Mulka Nisic: We actually have 10 recommendations, but I think we have already touched upon lots of them and it’s all about this multidisciplinary, collaborative approach with health professionals and other professionals, building these networks that are inclusive, local, inclusive recovery cities, oriented systems of care, inclusive recovery. providing education and training for professionals and peer communities. And I think this is really important for mainstreaming the care systems into the standards of recovery provision, but also to foster programs that are driven to the needs of local communities and that really acknowledge the disparities and cultural and gender age factors in recovery But also, um, one thing that really is important is that we support clinical, um, community and public health research and, and, uh, You know, gather, as David says, all of these best practices and model into a comprehensive system where people can tap into it and then, you know, really have standards for doing so. And for the policy, I think, Making the policies more balanced and and dividing the funding also in a balanced way is something that really needs to be done and for effective social integration and effective treatment, we need to do so. and policies should be also developed to, to, to be more focused on these resources and, and, and recognizing. that employment, housing, education, health, and everything that really is a key ingredient of recovery needs to be supported. We can’t just support harm reduction and treatment or groups. We need to have this comprehensive system across the continuum of care. And I mean, it needs to be designed, and delivered, uh, with evaluation in, in, in mind. And we need to set these criteria and scopes, for this to be. really a diverse system that’s supportive of recovery communities. But I think, something that’s really imperative is to focus on local communities and build recovery environments where recovery can flourish and can support people to be inspired by their own cultural rituals, where the music, these recovery events, sports events, and the history is guided to the local community needs.

David Best: Oh, no, no. I think this is exactly right. You can hopefully tell the enthusiasm and passion for this. the two things fit together really well. you know, for me, inclusive recovery cities is one mechanism for starting to implement some of the key recommendations of global, uh, the global recovery position paper. because what it allows us to do is to bring to light Some of these kind of big activities and events suggest how other places can make recovery more visible to create that sense of energy and dynamism and to, to contribute. I think for me, the big thing that inclusive recovery cities offers is that way of formalizing that contribution that we know the recovery communities make everywhere to local citizenship and to do that in such a way. That it increases that sense of pride and belonging to the recovery movement that actively engages politicians and policy makers. I mean, I can, going back to 2010, when we had the first ever recovery walk in Glasgow, I was lucky enough to co host it along with, at that time, the Scottish Communities Minister, Fergus Ewing. And it became apparent to me then that drugs generally for politicians is a topic to avoid entirely. Recovery celebration events with kids and families and happiness and music and all those kind of things makes it a great photo opportunity. And really it’s about how do we mobilize that, not just for politicians. But for all kinds of professionals and policy makers, and you know, I’m really excited about the whole movement towards recovery employment strategies, because that’s another key area which is about challenging stigma, allowing people to give back, allowing people to contribute. And we know there’s this wealth of goodwill in the recovery community. towards giving back, to helping others, to, to making an active contribution. And I think for us, one of the massive challenges for GPPR and inclusive recovery cities is how do we stop societies and communities inadvertently or deliberately preventing the recovery community from making their contribution.

Dave Closson: that actually leads into my next question. Oh, so well, are you looking at my notes over here? our listeners have now they’re curious about becoming their own inclusive recovery city listeners have gone and read the paper as well, and they are ready to go out and start the conversations in their local community. What tips or advice could you share with them on how to start those conversations?

David Best: So basically, I think the key starting point is essentially about coordinating different types of grassroots recovery organizations together so you’re creating an umbrella that’s not linked to one particular philosophy or approach that has been. Mulka said is as intersectoral as possible, but the key is bottom up and top down. So you want as widespread a grassroots activation as possible, coupled with engagement of policy makers and politicians who can help to shape and direct policy and shape and direct activity.

Mulka Nisic: Yes, and of course, I mean, we have created these documents for inclusive recovery cities and for the global position paper on recovery, and they are available on our website. So Dave please also share the links and, um, the next step for us, definitely is, advance this principle by promoting and signing these consensus documents and fostering kind of global environment that supports recovery. We already have endorsement of around 315 organizations globally, and I think this is an amazing step. start, but we, um, we will launch this document during the U. N.’s Commission on narcotic Drugs now in March, And we have a governmentally hosted events to do so. There we have speakers from Serbian government, Croatian government, UK government, us as researchers and research team. And also the U. N. O. D. C. Has supported this document and acted as. observers and also E. M. C. D. D. A. So I think this is something that people would really love to be a part off and endorse. And I call everybody to read the papers, read our conceptual papers around the inclusive recovery city and just contact us and signed papers on on on our dedicated websites.

David Best: And you know, the other thing I would just want to add to this is it’s not called inclusive for nothing. If people can help in any way or want to get involved, get them to get in touch with us. Please get in touch with us that we want this to be an open movement. There’s a relatively small number of us trying to drive this forward. And to some extent, I think we’re all shocked by the level of engagement and enthusiasm about both global position paper and the inclusive recovery cities movement. So if anyone has something to offer, we’d be delighted to involve them.

Dave Closson: Together is better. Yes. All right. Listeners, you got your homework, read the paper sign as well to support it. And also start learning about becoming an inclusive recovery city. So before we, we hit end record though, I want to just open up any final parting words of wisdom or one, you know, takeaway you want our listeners to walk away with from our conversation today.

David Best: Yeah, I think one of the things from a science point of view we’ve done really well is start to develop a science of individual recovery. What we’re now moving into is a science of collective recovery. The policy paper, Inclusive Recovery Cities, is the idea that we should switch our lens to some extent from how an individual recovers, to how do we create the conditions and communities to maximize both the chance of recovery And to create the conditions that support recovery for me, this is initially an academic exercise, but is a fundamental challenge of making each community better by strengthening its recovery community.

Mulka Nisic: And I want to finish just by saying that recovery is definitely possible and people do recover. Uh, they contributed to their communities, families and, globally to the recovery community movement. and I want to encourage everybody to just believe in their recovery. And as you said, we’re all in this together and it’s better together.

Dave Closson: And with that, thank you both so much for doing the amazing work you were doing and making this world a better, better, happier place. Thank you all very much.

Mulka Nisic: Thank you so much.

David Best: Thank you so much, Dave.

Dave Closson: That concludes this episode. Thanks for tuning in. Be sure to hit the subscribe button and share this episode with a friend before you leave. And we look forward to seeing you on social media because prevention is better together. Together we are stronger.