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Today's Family Magazine

Fighting the addiction crisis

Apr 25, 2022 04:00PM ● By Today's Family

What do large public agencies like the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) have in common with Mentor-based nonprofit SMART Recovery USA (SMART)?

They are all at the vanguard of helping those struggling with addictive problems and are working together to make a difference.

SMART is being thrust into the middle of the rapidly accelerating national conversation about tackling the drug epidemic in a more pragmatic way.  In fact, SMART is able to be even more aggressive in this effort as a result of grant funds from OhioMHAS.

SMART recently hosted a lecture by the director of the NIDA, Dr. Nora Volkow, one of the world’s leading experts in the field of addiction research.  In presenting her research and recent findings, Volkow bottom-lined several perspectives shared by SMART.

“So even though theoretically we want people to stop taking drugs and to basically reinsert themselves into society that’s much easier said than done.”

Volkow advocates looking at addiction in a nonmoralistic, realistic, and stigma-free manner where temporary returns to use by individuals doesn’t equal failure and a need to start over.  Mark Ruth, executive director of SMART, couldn’t agree more.

“It’s like you’re driving from Ohio to New York and you get a flat tire in Pennsylvania.  You don’t change the tire and return home to start again; you fix the tire and get back on your journey.” 

That’s just one of the many ways that SMART is in alignment with the goals and objectives supported by NIDA and OhioMHAS.

Dr. Volkow also advocates a comprehensive approach to treating addiction.  This means working to decrease Opioid overdose deaths (more than 100,000 deaths in 2021) with strategies to reduce harm.  The application of “harm reduction” principles, according to Volkow, supports more education and practical tools, keeping those struggling able to pursue additional treatment.  

She says, “There are many harm reduction activities that can help us ensure that when a person is not ready to go into treatment or stop taking drugs, nonetheless, we can improve their outcomes and that will be beneficial to them and their family.”

Ruth identifies how some of these activities correlate with SMART.

“Since our inception in 1994, SMART has always supported harm reduction principles, including medication-assisted treatment (MAT). We unconditionally accept individuals regardless of where they are in their recovery.  While our SMART mutual-help programs, group support, and practical tools work well on their own, our participants are free to engage in other pathways of recovery as well.”

In her lecture for SMART, Volkow mentioned additional strategies, including safe injection sites, motivational interviewing (MI), and peer support.  SMART has always employed MI and many other cognitive behavioral therapy practices, and their mutual-help meetings focus on peer interaction.

Another significant connection between SMART and NIDA is found around the idea of reducing stigma, which Volkow mentioned in her lecture.  Volkow has also written on the subject for the Health Affairs Journal (1/3/22).

“Drug addiction is a chronic but treatable disorder with well-understood genetic and social contributors. It is not a sign of a person’s weakness or bad character.  We must stop stigmatizing people who use drugs as being bad or weak, and instead offer them support to help prevent addiction’s most adverse consequences.”

SMART has always discouraged the use of labels like “addict,” “alcoholic,” and “relapse,” and prefers referring to the behaviors themselves as “substance-use disorders.”  This is consistent with NIDA’s views.

Ultimately, while OhioMHAS, NIDA and SMART may represent different ways of operating—public agency v. nonprofit, grant making versus grant seeking, large v. modest in size, they are each working on the same drug crisis, along with many others, to help others live life beyond addiction.

Please email SMART Recovery at [email protected] or visit for more information.