Graduation                                                           Graduation Diploma            

Celebrations of success are enjoyed in education, entertainment, science, and employment. We believe opioid sobriety should be no different.

Many of our participants have failed other treatment attempts multiple times. Our program, along with state legislation for opioid addiction, centers on the principle of HOPE. Hope for the participants, hope for their families, and the desire by our communities to be rid of the effects of opioids, were the driving forces behind the implementation of a graduation ceremony for our program participants.

In coordination with our Department’s Public Information Office, we developed an event to celebrate opioid sobriety. Our event and other related celebratory events were modeled after the evidence-based practice of rewards and sanctions. Throughout the participation in the pilot program, we implemented several opportunities to ensure the “rewards to sanctions” ratio stayed close to 4:1.

Wisconsin’s risk and needs assessment tool utilizes a tracking system where staff can input various rewards based upon a participant’s behavior. Rewards can be as simple as verbal praise and recognition by DOC leadership.  Others can be more significant such as letters of recognition, decrease in supervision level, and certificates of achievement. We believe at the end of our 12 month pilot program, a graduation ceremony would not only celebrate this success but also begin the next chapters of their life-long attention to sobriety.

The graduation ceremony celebrates an opioid-free lifestyle after completion of counseling and up to 12 injections of naltrexone (Vivitrol).  In front of family, friends, treatment providers, and media the participants receive a sobriety coin for completion of this phase. The sobriety coin is presented by community leaders, legislative officials, and DOC executive leadership. Past graduations had guest speakers have included:

  • Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor
  • Wisconsin Attorney General
  • Wisconsin Department of Corrections Secretary
  • Wisconsin legislative leaders
  • Local law enforcement leaders
  • Local judges

The event culminates in the participants receiving a framed certificate signed by the WIDOC Secretary.  All participants sign a release of information so their attendance and information released to the media does not compromise their confidentiality. At the end of the event, friends and family members are invited to share stories whole enjoying cake and beverages. They can also meet with WIDOC leadership and share their stories with media, if they choose.

While not everyone wants this level of attention, participants have the option to celebrate in the local community corrections field offices with staff, framed certificates, and sobriety coins.  No media are allowed at the local events.

Creating a Successful Graduation Celebration

Find a positive location related to the program.

  • Participants may shy away from high crime, high drug use neighborhoods.
  • Police department, treatment providers, colleges, medical clinics.
  • Free space saves costs.

Determine number of graduates and include families and support networks.

  • 8-12 graduates = about 40-50 in attendance.
  • Prepare certificates of completion.
  • Background screen to avoid media questions towards elected officials.

Determine speakers and agenda order.

  • Find knowledgeable, high profile individuals to draw attention to importance.
  • Promote treatment agendas, MAT, policy, new legislation.
  • Open with guest speakers followed by program leadership.
  • Use program graduates to emphasize program strengths.
  • Make leadership available to guests after ceremony.

Notify media via agency policy.

  • 30 days in advance – “Save-The-Date”.
  • Day of event – release media documents.

Confirm attendance and ensure graduates have transportation – provide if necessary:

  • Have bus tokens available or program staff may transport.
  • Anxiety may cause some graduates to no-show.
  • Reassure graduates your program will support and be with them at each step.

Day of the event.

  • Get there early to set up event room.
  • Have cake, treats and beverages for all.
  • Sign in sheets to track attendance.
  • Gather media in back of room for interviews.
  • Sound check microphones.

Relax and enjoy the event! It is not about us but about the graduates. This is their event to celebrate their hard work and success.