Stepping Stone’s CEO Looks to the Future

By M.J. Smith

Stepping Stone is a nationally recognized alcohol and drug treatment agency that provides intensive residential treatment, relapse prevention and aftercare. The organization is one of only a handful in the nation that specializes in long-term addiction treatment for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals, many of whom are HIV/AIDS positive.

Stepping Stone was founded in 1976 in response to the unique challenges that the LGBT community faced with drug addiction. Since 2000, clients have been calling The Stone, the agency’s new treatment facility, their home during their 6-month stay.

In addition to 12 step-based therapy, seeking safety, and other evidence-based treatment practices, Stepping Stone employs a holistic approach to recovery, including self-advocacy and outreach. The agency also offers aftercare and operates 2 transitional living homes.

The facility boasts 31 beds, a beautifully landscaped courtyard, a Zen garden, a gym, a gourmet kitchen, BBQ area, a lounge, treatment rooms, and a large community room that hosts residential and community meetings open to the public.

The agency’s primary mission has been to create safe places where individuals can tackle the challenges of alcohol or drug addiction, being gay, transgendered, or HIV positive.

The organization’s secondary goal is to improve the image of recovery in order to end the discrimination that surrounds drug addiction and people in recovery. The agency also offers the most up-to-date treatment options and ensures that people in recovery (or seeking) are treated with dignity and respect.

Stepping Stone recognizes the medicinal value of cannabis to help those suffering from human wasting syndrome, which is common in HIV/AIDS patients. They hope for guidelines from the state or county to implement a policy for serving those who need addiction treatment, but also have a legitimate need to use medical cannabis. In 2003, the state of Oregon’s Health Department chose to be proactive and implement such a policy. It is their hope that California will do the same.

Some dispensaries offer harm reduction-based recovery groups aimed at those in recovery who use medical cannabis, such as the Harm Reduction Therapy Center in San Francisco and the Berkley Patients Group. According to the Harm Reduction Journal, “The rise of authorized marijuana use in the U.S. means that many individuals are using cannabis as they concurrently engage in other forms of treatment, such as addiction counselling and psychotherapy.”

To find out more about Stepping Stone, NUG interviewed Board Member Terrie Best and Director of Development Bixi Craig.

What was the driving force behind Stepping Stone’s decision to collaborate with the medical marijuana service providers?
Aside from having a board member with one foot in the recovery community and one foot in the cannabis patient advocacy community, we are looking at a very important time in history right now. What we are trying to accomplish is to look into the future and start planting the seed for something that will connect the treatment community positively with the medical cannabis community. Stepping Stone is nationally recognized for being a progressive alcohol and drug treatment facility. For over 35 years, Stepping Stone has responded to addiction with unique treatments, services, and angles. Stepping Stone would like to be in the forefront of providing and advocating services that help our clients endure their challenges.

Has Stepping Stone been affected by the recession?
Very much so. The past two years have been hard on the agency because with county funding reductions, we have lost programs, staff, and outpatient services. Now we are focusing on becoming less dependent on the traditional funding sources. We would like to get our outpatient program back and expand our services in the future, and that is why we are reaching out to our community.

Could court ordering addicts into rehabilitation programs such as Stepping Stone as opposed to incarceration be an effective means of removing some of the congestion in our prison system?
Dollar for dollar, it’s more effective cost wise and success wise to offer as much treatment as you can to nonviolent drug offenders. The elimination of Prop. 36 resulted in the loss of services many LGBT individuals were benefiting from. The governor has chosen to completely defund Prop. 36, but people still did vote it in. Consequently, the court cannot mandate people to prison right now because the voters have said we want to offer them treatment, but the money to offer them treatment isn’t there. So we are in sort of an unusual position where a lot of Prop. 36 eligible people are going unsupported right now. The courts can’t put them in prison, which is a good thing, but they are still not getting the services they need either. It is a difficult time for everyone and we hope the governor and legislative will come to their senses and start funding these services again.

I hear Stepping Stone encourages its clients to take active roles in grassroots advocacy. Has this proven to be an effective means for empowering clients?
Absolutely! what our clients learn is that they are essentially not powerless and have a right to treatment and safety. That is where the self-advocacy model is initiated. When they go out there in the real world, they have better tools to represent themselves and to be represented…

…Especially if you are in a marginalized group like the LGBT community.
The name of the game in the recovery community is to reduce the stigma of addiction. Reducing the stigma of addiction is a huge undertaking and is so necessary. Politicians again, just like with medical marijuana patients, need to look at people in recovery as a voter block and begin to fund these programs again. They begin to realize that treatment instead of incarceration makes sense not only fiscally, but politically. Self-advocacy and advocating for the entire recovery community is huge and it is something that a lot of forward thinking people such as John de Miranda, our President and CEO, support, and they know advocacy is the key to getting these programs back on track with funding.

There are a lot of people in the recovery community that would say total abstinence is the only solution. What would be your response to that?
If you can get to total abstinence, that is the ultimate harm reduction. If you can’t ever get to total abstinence, there are still plenty of opportunities to make a positive change in your life. Some people will never get to total abstinence and that is a reality. We want to honor their goals for continuing to push forward for a better life. Harm reduction casts a wider net of services for a wider net of people who would otherwise be marginalized. If you try to force everyone into immediate abstinence, you are going to have a very narrow net of services.

How can dispensaries and physician clinics get involved with Stepping Stone?
Medical marijuana service providers are registered as nonprofit organizations, so any money beyond the operational funds each month could be allocated to other nonprofit services. It would make perfect sense to support and fund an organization that has a positive outlook on the future of medical marijuana in regards to alcohol and drug addiction treatment. This will make a case for the movement at large, so it can be recorded and archived. What I would like to propose here is a scenario in the future where dispensaries can stand up and say look, we have been supporting this treatment facility for this extended period of time and look at the results; look at the people in recovery, look at the positive impact.

You can be part of this groundbreaking movement by helping to fund Stepping Stone’s programs. The organization can only become less financially dependent on restrictive government-based funding with the support of its community. For more information on how to get involved, contact Bixi Craig at bixi@steppingstonesd.org or 619-278-0777. Information about treatment programs and events can be found at steppingstonesd.org.

Steve

Author: Steve

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