An Interview with Michele Canale, CEO, Modern Recovery Network

Written by Gerard Bullen |

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As a way of introducing the members of the Modern Recovery Network team to you, we recently interviewed our Chief Executive Officer Michele Canale, the original founder of Modern Recovery Services, which itself continues as an integral element of the new organization.

Despite being incredibly busy with the launch of Modern Recovery Network and the opening of Avery’s House, our new Adolescent Behavioral Health facility, Michele found the time to finally sit down, answer our interview questions, and share her thoughts and insight into the provision of behavioral health services in the southwestern U.S.

You are going to have to go through whatever it is that is causing you this much pain. Now or later. Drugs and alcohol just delay the process.” Michele Canale, CEO, Modern Recovery Network

In addition to Michele’s interview, we will look at the emphasis placed on harm reduction by new U.S. drug policies, and the new public health emergency centered on the mental health of the nation’s adolescents.

Michele’s Interview: Part I

1. How long have you been working in the field of behavioral health and substance addiction treatment and recovery?

I have been working in behavioral health on and off since 2003. I started out as an addictions counselor for adolescents and then transitioned to working with adults. I left the field in 2009 and taught Elementary school for a time. However, at the same time, I did contract work for different treatment providers running IOP (intensive outpatient program) groups at night.  

2. What would you consider to be your top three accomplishments while working in this field?

1. Creating a sustainable and awesome working environment for each employee, and listening to the feedback from staff to produce a culture that supports a work-life balance.  

2. Bringing services to the community that are lacking, and basing our expansion on the needs of the communities we serve.

3. Diversity in our culture – from the staff to the clients, providing the proper professional training and hiring staff based on the needs of our clients. 

3. What motivates you the most on a daily basis?

My daughter, the under-served, the disadvantaged, the people who can not speak up for themselves, populations that are the underdogs of our society, such as the single moms, the transgender 13-year-old, and the racially discriminated, and truly achieving justice, fairness, equality, and diversity in all of our services.

4. What do you find frustrating about working in this field? What would you change if you could?

Insurance! It would affect a business owner like me the most, but it is also the one thing I would change – the need for “socialized healthcare.”  

5. You are the founder and CEO of Modern Recovery and started the company by providing a remote, on-call support service for post-discharge clients. How valuable is it for a newly-sober person to have a professional recovery coach as an integral element of their recovery support network?

It is very important to have accountability and support in a different peer-related way. It helps lengthen treatment and directly connects both the client’s home life and the treatment team. A recovery coach helps to put the treatment plan into action on a daily basis, enabling short and long-term goals to be put in place in real-time.

6. Modern Recovery has recently acquired SpringBoard Recovery, one of the most respected drug and alcohol treatment facilities in the Southwest, and both will shortly come under a new umbrella organization – Modern Recovery Network.

What are your real hopes for this new venture – a fully integrated mental health and substance addiction treatment service?

I love that we can now offer all levels of care with a common voice and vision. The owners of Modern Recovery Network all have different skill sets, and together we provide a valuable, well-rounded perspective when creating treatment for adults and adolescents.  

7. In your opinion, what’s the most important aspect to achieving a sustainable recovery from drug or alcohol addiction?

Connection. Every person struggling with substance use disorders needs to have at least one significant connection to someone they believe. This can carry a person through the toughest obstacles in early recovery. 

On a personal level, I had Val. Val was my connection, the one person I truly believed and that she had my best interest in mind. I believed that she understood what I was struggling with and I believed she had a solution. Because that connection was there, I followed through. 

For everyone, that is different; it may be a connection to a person, a group, a hobby, a book, a movie, an event, a moment, a practice, a religion, an animal – really, just a deep and genuine connection.  

Mental Health Worsening

Modern Recovery Services is a firm and loyal advocate of the proactive harm reduction policies currently being used in the U.S.

What is Harm Reduction? Is It Effective in Reducing Overdoses?

Harm reduction is now an important element of the federal government’s comprehensive drug policy, with the clear aim of reducing fatal drug overdoses by accessing drug users “where they are” and exposing them to substance use and addiction prevention, treatment, and recovery services. 

What is Harm Reduction?

According to the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the policy of “Harm Reduction” can be defined as “a proactive and evidence-based approach to reduce the negative personal and public health impacts of behavior associated with alcohol and other substance use at both the individual and community levels.”

The proven policy uses a range of strategies including:

  • Safer and managed use
  • Abstinence, and
  • Addressing the conditions of use, along with the use itself

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) now actively promotes the use of harm reduction. The HHS states, “Individuals inherently deserve services that promote health, regardless of whether they use drugs. Evidence-based harm reduction strategies minimize negative consequences of drug use. These activities further expand access to harm reduction interventions and better integrate harm reduction into general medical care.”

Obviously, the clearest “negative consequence” is the growing number of drug overdose deaths being seen across the U.S. According to the latest data from the Centers of Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), nearly 108,000 Americans died from an overdose in 2021.

Harm Reduction Resources

The National Harm Reduction Technical Assistance Center (NHRTAC), part of the CDC,  provides free help to anyone in the country providing (or planning to provide) harm reduction services to their community, including:

  • Syringe services programs
  • Health departments
  • Programs providing treatment for substance use disorder
  • Prevention & Recovery programs

A practical, community-based, and effective element of harm reduction as a policy are “Syringe Services Programs” which provide:

  • Access to and safe disposal of sterile syringes and injection equipment
  • Vaccination
  • Testing, and 
  • Direct links infectious disease care and substance use treatment

Furthermore, the National Harm Reduction Coalition (NHRC) is a national advocacy organization formed in 1993 as a response to the growing mortality of AIDS sufferers in the U.S., who promote the well-being and dignity of people and communities affected by drug use.

Their website includes a host of useful harm reduction resources, such as Training Guides and Fact Sheets covering a range of topics, including:

Photo of a group meeting

Is Harm Reduction Effective? Importantly, Is It Cost-Effective?

Nearly 30 years of research has shown that comprehensive SSPs are safe, effective, and cost-saving, do not increase illegal drug use or crime, and play a significant role in the reduction of fatal drug overdoses, and the transmission of viral hepatitis, HIV, and other infections.

One particular study of injection drug users in Seattle, Washington state, found that new SSP users are 5 times more likely to enter drug treatment, and around 3 times more likely to eventually stop using drugs than those who don’t use the programs.

Furthermore, it’s not just in the U.S. where harm reduction policies have been proven to be cost-effective.

Harm Reduction International (HRI), a Non-Governmental Organization with Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, reports that there is substantial and compelling evidence from across the world that harm reduction interventions are cost-effective, and can be cost-saving in the long-term.

HRI has found that:

  • Needle and syringe programs (NSPs) are one of the most cost-effective public health interventions currently in existence
  • Opioid substitution therapy is cost-effective for both individuals and society  
  • Combined harm reduction services are significantly more cost-effective than isolated services  
  • The peer distribution of naloxone is highly cost-effective  
  • Drug consumption rooms provide a high return on their investment  
  • Inaction, reducing funds or closing services have negative economic consequences 
  • The economic cost of punitive drug policies, such as incarceration for drug use and possession, places a substantial economic burden on public health, society, and the individual
Springboard Recovery

Michele’s Interview: Part II

8. What would you personally say to someone with a drug or alcohol problem (or has a loved one with a problem) who is considering seeking help?

You are going to have to go through whatever it is that is causing you this much pain. Now or later. Drugs and alcohol just delay the process. Once you go through it, you don’t have to again as long as you don’t use substances. 

Using drugs or alcohol stops the healing process. When the pain of using is greater than the pain of not using, you will start that process.  

9. When you tell someone you just met that you work in the field of behavioral health and addiction treatment, what are the three most common questions you get asked?

  1. “Is that stressful?”
  2. “Can you help my loved one?”
  3. “How do I get into that field of work?”

10. What challenges do you consistently have to overcome when people say “treatment doesn’t work”?

Sometimes it doesn’t, and that is ok. I then suggest a different model or an alternative harm reduction path. I often respond by saying,”It’s ok if you don’t want to achieve abstinence.”

The abstinence method is not effective for everyone. There are many other options out there, such as medically assisted, just staying clean off their preferred drug or even a moderation-based method.  

11. Co-occurring disorder (the simultaneous presence of a mental health disorder or behavioral issue with a substance addiction) is very common among drug addicts and alcoholics.

What do you consider is the best way to treat both elements of a co-occurring disorder?

Educating clients that most drug and alcohol problems stem from untreated mental health diagnoses’. I think our programs are great because we have so many different approaches and models to help different people.  

12. The health of the nation has been under a lot of stress in the last couple of years – from the coronavirus pandemic and all of its fallout to the record numbers of fatal drug overdoses, and the emergence of fentanyl-based counterfeit pills now flooding the U.S.

Is a national mental health crisis heading our way, or do you believe we are already experiencing one? What can be done to lessen the very real impact on our youngsters and adolescents?

The adolescents are struggling the most. They are disconnected from people and their parents are checked out. This is a larger question and problem than the mental health crisis. It is stress, inflation, lack of healthcare support, lack of equality, it is consumerism, and lack of support for a demanding society, its the education system, it is inequality in pay, lack of education for parents and kids around topics, and its lack of separation of church and state.  

13. What do you do to unwind and relax after a hard day at the office?

I enjoy going to the gym, yoga and spending time with my daughter, husband, and 3 dogs.  I love traveling and exploring other cultures.

Author: Gerard Bullen

Gerard has been writing exclusively for the U.S. substance addiction treatment industry for many years, providing a range of medically-reviewed work, including white papers, long-form, and short-form content articles, and blog posts for accredited addiction treatment centers. A member of the American Medical Writers Association, Gerard’s specific focus is substance addiction (an area that has impacted Gerard’s personal life in several ways), and he is particularly drawn to the topics of professional, evidence-based treatment, new and alternative therapies, and enabling readers to find their own sustainable, long-term recovery. Gerard lives and works in Maryland, U.S., he’s happily married, and a proud father. His interests include hiking with the family, reading fiction (from the classics to virtually all of the current NYT bestseller list), American and British film classics, and his beloved dogs, Toby and Coco, both rescued from the local pound.

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