A documentary focused on issues surrounding opioid addiction in Arkansas premiered Wednesday, October 13 at the 30th annual Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival.
“7 Days: The Opioids Crisis in Arkansas” will air at 8 p.m. on Monday, October 25 on Arkansas PBS, will be available for streaming starting October 26 through Arkansas PBS, and includes the story of Bonnie Stribling, a second-year student at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.
The documentary is a combined effort from the Arkansas Department of Education, law enforcement partners, and Arkansas PBS, and will be available for schools, institutions of higher education, and communities to show during Red Ribbon Week, October 23-31. Nathan Willis, an Arkansas native who directed the film, shares stories from Arkansans who have suffered from addiction and details the continued fight in the state to address the issues surrounding opioid use, misuse, and addiction
Stribling, a native of Russellville, Ark., has been sober since March 2014. She tells her story of addiction and recovery with Willis, detailing the periods of her life while in active addiction, as well as her life now as a mother in recovery.
“Nathan found me through a recommendation from the State Drug Director’s Office, Kirk Lane,” said Stribling, who currently serves as a Peer Recovery Peer Supervisor (PRPS) for the Natural State Recovery Center. “They knew that I was in recovery from opiate addiction. They recommended me because I’ve been kind of a staple in the peer recovery movement here in Arkansas.”
Stribling has pioneered much of Arkansas’s peer recovery movement through her persistent work and public advocacy. Her list of positions, accolades, and services within the recovery and peer support movement in Arkansas is extensive.
In addition to her position with the Natural State Recovery Center, she serves as Secretary for the Arkansas Peer Advisory Committee, a nonprofit and subcommittee to the state’s Alcohol and Drug Council. In 2020, she was a part of Arkansas’s first group of recovery specialists to be promoted to the role of Peer Recovery Peer Supervisor, a position certified through the National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC).
“I guess that journey started in 2018,” Stribling said of entering into a supervisor role. “I went to training and just continued to do the work. It presented itself and I just kept going. But I have been a part of different committees, just building the supervisor model. I’m on the Ethics Review Board as well for the certification.”
Stribling helped to design and implement the role of peer support specialist in a Medicaid-billable facility – also a first for the state of Arkansas – while working with Birch Tree Communities as a certified mental health paraprofessional.
In the summer of 2021, her work was elevated to the national level as she partnered with Faces and Voices of Recovery as part of her International Public Service Project at the Clinton School. The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit is dedicated to organizing and mobilizing the more than 23 million Americans in recovery to promote the right and resources to recover through advocacy, education, and demonstrating the power and proof of long-term recovery.
“I’m just really excited that people are starting to take notice of recovery stories,” Stribling said, reflecting on her role in the documentary. “I think it’s important that we focus on these stories. It’s easy to see the problem. The statistics are there, the numbers are there, but we really need to strengthen what we are doing well in Arkansas.”
Set to graduate with her Master of Public Service in May 2022, Stribling plans to continue building her career around peer recovery. In addition to her MPS, she will be among the first Clinton School graduates to earn a concurrent Master of Social Work from UA Little Rock.
“It was perfect, the best opportunity, and I am so grateful,” Stribling said of the new MPS-MSW concurrent degree program. “I see it as a perfect merge of two different professions. I’m excited about being so well-versed in this world of nonprofit. I am going to take the macro path, which is the administrative or management level of social work, and I hope to open a recovery program – my hope is to open a recovery high school or a recovery community organization.”
As part of her work in the Clinton School’s Program Planning and Development course, she conducted best-practices research to her goal of opening a recovery high school in Arkansas, finding nearly 50 examples of recovery schools across the country. Her research showed that buy-in from the community is critical.
“Unfortunately, there are still a lot of people who don’t believe high school students struggle with drugs,” Stribling said. “But in 2017, Arkansas had the highest overdose rates for ages 12 to 17, and we currently have zero treatment centers for people under the age of 18. We have short-term stays, but we don’t have treatment opportunities.”
Stribling said that it’s important for her to continue being open and honest about her history of addiction and recovery. As a peer support specialist, she uses her story as a means to connect with others who need help.
“I think that there are a lot of people in recovery who use their stories as their biggest shame, but it’s become my greatest asset,” Stribling said. “I think that it’s important to not doubt yourself and use those hard experiences to find our jumping off point to find our place. There’s plenty of people in our recovery community who could very easily do something like the Clinton School, who could run or start an organization, and I just hope to see more of that.”
The Clinton School Speaker Series not only enhances the education of Clinton School students, but also provides a venue for the public to engage in intellectual discussions on the issues of the day.