Mind and Body

A constituency of political consequence

Tom Coderre joins the Raimondo team as a senior advisor

Photo courtesy of Tom Coderre

Tom Coderre, right, with the former R.I. Senate President, M. Teresa Paiva Weed, at the 2014 community recovery rally.

Photo by Richard Asinof

Jonathan Goyer, left, Gov. Gina Raimondo, and Sen. Josh Miller at the Dec. 19 news conference at CODA.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 1/8/18
The appointment of Tom Coderre to serve as a senior advisor to Gov. Gina Raimondo brings to her team an experienced policy analyst and legislative liaison when it comes to overdose prevention, intervention and recovery, which promises to be featured as one of the top campaign messaging efforts in the upcoming 2018 gubernatorial campaign.
When will the harm reduction strategy document, one of the items in Raimondo’s executive order from July 12, 2017, be released? Are the numbers from 2017 for Memorial Hospital’s emergency medical services transport, with about one-quarter of all transports for alcohol intoxication, consistent with the data from other hospital emergency rooms in Rhode Island? What is the cost of providing those services? How many of the patients presenting with “alcohol intoxication” receive treatment and recovery services? When will discussion about the diseases of despair become a topic of the Task Force?
To date, drugs, addiction and the epidemic of overdose deaths have not been part of the initial conversations by Republican candidates who have announced their intention to run for governor in 2018. By doing so, Republican candidates are apparently willing to cede the floor to Gov. Gina Raimondo, who no doubt will tout her efforts to save lives, promoting her willingness to engage and lead on the difficult issue.
Bringing on Tom Coderre as a senior advisor on her team provides her with a powerful voice advocating for the recovery community to become a constituency of consequence.
Lost in translation, however, are some difficult topics that need wrestling with moving forward: how to include the diseases of despair and their economic roots into the conversation; whether to endorse harm reduction strategies that may include safe injection sites and distribution of fentanyl testing strips; how to create more recovery housing; and how to move beyond the clinical model for overdose prevention and intervention.

PROVIDENCE – The news that Tom Coderre will be joining the senior staff of Gov. Gina Raimondo as a “senior advisor,” beginning on Jan. 22, was announced in a Dear Colleagues email on Jan. 5, from Brett Smiley, chief of staff for the Governor, not as a news release, in what could be termed as a peculiar Friday afternoon news dump.

[Still, the Coderre appointment was covered by WPRI’s Ted Nesi, RIPR’s Ian Donnis, and The Providence Journal’s Kathy Gregg. Analysis of the political significance of Coderre’s return to Rhode Island, however, remained largely unexplored.]

As a senior advisor, Coderre’s portfolio will include coordinating Raimondo’s “various tactics to combat the addiction/opioid crisis” and serving as a liaison to the legislature, according to Smiley. Coderre’s salary will be $150,797 a year, according a report in The Providence Journal.

The political calculus
Coderre is one of Rhode Island’s true comeback success stories in the world of recovery. He had served as state Senator from Pawtucket from 1995 to 2003 before failing into the dark web of addiction.

Now, more than 14 years in recovery, Coderre has been a prominent voice of the Rhode Island recovery movement, having overcome his own personal addiction to drugs to re-emerge as a successful policy analyst.

His appointment comes at a time when the ongoing work of the Governor’s Task Force on Overdose Prevention and Intervention will come under more political scrutiny as the 2018 gubernatorial election ramps up into higher gear.

From 2009 until 2014, Coderre served as chief-of-staff for former R.I. Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, before being appointed as a senior advisor with the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA, to help shape policies on substance abuse prevention, treatment and recovery programs at the agency. [See link below to ConvergenceRI story, “Tom Coderre goes to Washington.”

Coderre also served as the board chair for the R.I. Communities for Addiction Recovery Efforts, or RICARES, and was the former national field director of Faces & Voices of Recovery, based in Washington, D.C.

Most recently, Coderrre served as a senior advisor to the Altarum Institute’s Behavioral Health Technical Assistance Center in Washington, D.C.

On the agenda
Coderre’s return to Rhode Island comes at a time when there has been a marked increase in public presence and marketing efforts focused on the work of the Governor’s Task Force

On Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017, Gov. Gina Raimondo held a news conference at the CODAC offices in Cranston to frame what was called “a glimmer” of hope in the reductions in the number of drug overdose deaths during the first seven months of 2017, as compared to 2016. [See link below to ConvergenceRI story, “Addiction: the disease that keeps on killing us.”]

The news conference also highlighted the role of the new family council, an off-shot of the Governor’s Task Force, to involve families in the conversation.

Beginning Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, 12 fire stations in Providence began to serve as safe stations for those seeking help with treatment and recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. The premise is that anyone can walk into a fire station and be directly linked to treatment and recovery services, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“Treatment and recovery on-demand,” posted recovery coach Jonathan Goyer on Facebook. “The way it should be.”

The “safe station” approach is modeled after the initiative under way in Manchester, N.H. However, there are recent reports that after the initial success of the safe station effort, which first shifts people who seek help into a respite program, the program has experienced difficulties because of increased demand and the lack of available space in recovery programs, according to several sources.

On Monday, Jan. 15, Martin Luther King Day, the R.I. Department of Health, in coordination with Creating Outreach About Addiction Support Together, or CoaastRI, will be hosting a special program, “Owning Our Story [about the opioid epidemic],” including a unique adaptation of the play, “Four Legs To Stand On.”

The free event, advertised in a poster with the phrase, “Together, we will rewrite this story,” will be held at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., will feature Dr. Jody Rich, Paul Kandarian, and Alyssa Sullivan.

Rachel Elmaleh, communications specialist with the R.I. Department of Health, urged members of the task force to actively promote the event, saying in an email: “If you haven’t already done so, please share the event details on social media and forward the attached flyer to colleagues, friends and family.”

In addition, Elmaleh offered a suggested tweet: “Looking forward to @rihealth & @coasstri’s free event, #OwningOur Story, with TED talk-style speakers.”

In 2016, as part of the agenda of the South County Health’s board and medical staff retreat included a performance of “Four Legs To Stand On” by COAAST as a way to use community engagement practices to create an ongoing dialogue about addiction loss and recovery. [See link to ConvergenceRI story below, “Engaging with the community as a competitive strategy.”]


No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment

© convergenceri.com | subscribe | contact us | report problem | About | Advertise

powered by creative circle media solutions

Join the conversation

Want to get ConvergenceRI
in your inbox every Monday?

Type of subscription (choose one):

We will contact you with subscription details.

Thank you for subscribing!

We will contact you shortly with subscription details.