5 questions with Drug Task Force Executive Director Suzanne Spencer

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1. Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got involved leading the Drug Task Force?
People are surprised to learn that I am not an addict. I don’t think you have to be an addict to understand recovery. I think in some aspects of our lives, at some point in our lives, we will all need to call on our strengths to “recover” from the trials and tribulations that may come our way through life. If we are lucky, for most of us these are simply “moments” in our lives and don’t become our lives. What I most love about the Delray Beach Drug Task Force and Living Skills in the Schools, is that I get contribute to the betterment of our community, for us and for our children who follow. I get to mentor kids who need someone to believe they are capable of success; I get to ask people (my board members) to do “better” than they thought they could. I get to build people and companies; I get to influence individuals and influence paradigms with regard to substance use disorder.
2. What is the Drug Task Force? Who is on the task force and what is the group currently working on?
The Delray Beach Drug Task Force is set up as a 501(c)(3). We are comprised of both an Advisory Board and an Executive Board of Directors. At any given meeting, you will see approximately 50 plus stakeholders gather around the table who represent Law Enforcement, Educators, First Responders, City Government, State Government, Treatment and Recovery Residence Owners, Lawyers, Medical Professionals , Church Leadership and Corporate Partners. The Board is made up of leaders who have the ability to affect process and decision- making within their organizations, communities, state, and spheres of influence.
Some current DBDTF initiatives include:
Delray Beach Heroin Task Force
SUD TALKS 2017- An Annual nationwide event similar to TED Talks that was created to change the way we think, feel, believe, and treat Substance Use Disorder
Project Trailblazer- designed to improve the economic architecture of our City by providing job opportunities for those in recovery that allow them to be employed at their skill level thereby influencing long –term recovery outcomes.
Education of our communities
Sober Home Task Force – We are assisting the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office with their legislatively mandated role of studying the needs of the State related to Substance Use Disorder as well as the adequacy of the current laws in addressing those needs
Displaced Residents- We help those who have nowhere else to go.
Leadership to our City with regard to Substance Use Disorder
3. What is the biggest misconception about the recovery world and how are you trying to combat rumors?
The biggest misconception about the recovery world, is that recovery and addiction are the same thing. They are not. Sadly, our community, cities and nations continue to spend so much time, effort, and money fighting those who are doing what it takes to overcome addiction. These are distractions from the “real” problem -the disease of addiction. Recovery and those in it are not what we should be fighting. While we are fighting recovery, the disease of addiction continues to gain even more ground in destroying our children, our families, our communities, our country and each other. We try to combat rumors by educating the media on responsible reporting and offering credible information; partnering with our law enforcement agencies to keep our community abreast of what is happening on the streets, and answering any questions or addressing any fears they may have. We also believe the “recovery community” has a responsibility to assimilate within an integrated community and contribute to their fullest ability within that community.
4. What is the biggest challenge facing the task force?
The biggest challenge the DBDTF is facing is two-fold. We have built a model that others have said is not seen anywhere else in the state. We have brought together stakeholders who are decision makers, thought leaders, and respected agents of change; we have designed and implemented initiatives that now have other cities turning to us as role models; however, our efforts and initiatives are completely un-funded. As a result, the current infrastructure is not able to support our growing needs and opportunities to design, plan, implement, and execute sustainable solutions.
The second challenge is succession planning. The Drug Task Force is a full-time job. Looking at our ability to affect change over the last five years, some have suggested that our success in bringing so many diverse stakeholders to work together towards a shared purpose; to trust decision-making and motive; is best achieved by a non-stakeholder in the leadership position. This makes succession planning a little challenging.
5. What is the most rewarding part about leading the task force?
There are so many rewarding parts of having the honor to lead the DBDTF for the last 5 years. I am passionate about serving our community and all of its citizens. I get to ask and remind people of their “why”, and their responsibility to be true to those values for the betterment of the community and those they made a commitment to serve. We, the DBDTF, get to see lives changed and lives saved. We also ensure that our City of Delray Beach knows that an organization is out there working for the needs of the whole community.