The National Recovery Month Partners have awarded the Missouri Department of Health's Division of Behavioral Health's director with the Ramstad/Kennedy award.
"This award has gone out for the last seven years to state agency directors for the state's substance abuse programs," said award recipient Mark Stringer. "The emphasis for me is on recovery, and a lot of people don't know that recovery from mental illness and addiction is possible. I have seen it many times in my career. Recovery is important to me and this award is simply recognition of that."
The Missouri Recovery Network nominated Stringer for the award for his work with the Missouri Department of Corrections and treatment of mental illness and substance abuse, said Brenda Schell of the MRN.
"Mark has been very instrumental at the Department of Mental Health," Schell said. "He has really brought the Department of Mental Health and the Division of Behavioral Health to the forefront of looking at substance abuse as a chronic illness. He has been instrumental at educating individuals, and the state, about ongoing recovery support services. He is helping people understand what is needed for people to get well."
Since 2002, Stringer has been working with the DOC on a program called the Missouri Reentry Process.
"It is an effort to reduce recidivism," Stringer said. "A lot of offenders, not just in this state but across the country, reoffend and go back to prison. A big part of that is addressing offenders with substance abuse problems and finding a way for them to recover."
When Stringer talks about recovering, he means helping people be able to manage their symptoms, to have stable housing, to find jobs and not to be involved in any criminal activity, he said.
Stringer classifies addiction as a mental illness, stating that it is a brain disease that manifest behaviorally and that it is classified as such by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association.
As a part of the governor's initiative to address the problems of mental illness, Stringer helped establish community mental health liaisons to work with law enforcement officers. The liaisons work to ensure people in the criminal justice system with mental illness have access to help and to reduce the growing numbers of the mentally ill in prison.
"People with mental illness are much more likely to be victims of violent crimes rather than perpetrators," Stringer said. "In fact many people with mental illness get involved with the criminal justice system not because of violent crimes, but because they commit petty crimes."
Stinger is also known for his open door policy, establishing professional relationships with other organizations, creating treatment plans on an individual case basis and incorporating input from people who have dealt with substance abuse and mental illness into his recovery and treatment processes.
He has been in the business of recovery for more than 30 years and said he has seen hundreds of people recover and he has known people who have reclaimed their lives because of recovery. He spoke of children being returned to their parents who have beat addiction, babies born from sober mothers who struggled with drugs and alcohol and people who were "down and out with nothing but the clothes on their backs" graduate their program to become an employed and productive member of society.
"I have seen all these things, so I know it can happen. I know it is possible," he said.
Stringer is also the president of the National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors and is a member of the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors.
The Ramstad/Kennedy award is an annual, national award that was established in honor of Congressmen Jim Ramstad and Patrick Kennedy. The two congressmen supported both national and local efforts of prevention, treatment and recovery