What Are Peer Recovery Specialists and Do You Need One?

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You wake up in the ER after a drug overdose. A stranger sits in the chair next to your bed. She introduces herself as your “peer recovery specialist.”

She is a former addict in recovery. With many experiences similar to yours, she’s committed to helping you through your struggles. She will stay in touch with you after you are discharged and meet with you regularly. She will be a source of support to help you with issues like housing, court obligations and job searches. She is your coach on the road to sobriety.

Where Can I Find a PRS?

Millions of Americans are caught in a cycle of opioid abuse. Every day, over 1,000 people are treated in emergency departments for misusing prescription opioids. In response to these staggering statistics, policymakers in many states are turning to this new peer recovery approach. They reason that “a road to recovery led by people who have traveled it” makes a lot of sense.

The program launched in Rhode Island and other states are following suit. New York, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Delaware are all working on developing similar programs. In facilities that host this initiative, you’ll find peer recovery coaches available in the ER department. In this hectic setting, doctors often have only a moment or two with patients – this is hardly conducive for recommending treatment and following up with patients about their recovery. Healthcare providers are hoping this personal approach will be more effective in getting patients the help they need.

The point is to pair patients with those who have lived the life of an addict, but some regulations may restrict healthcare providers from working with those who have a criminal record. This eliminates many potential coaches. Facilities also want to ensure coaches are equipped to handle their role. This means providing training and resources – without shaping the coach into “just another clinician” – rather than the personal coach they are intended to be. Policymakers are working on how best to fill these roles.

Additional PRS Details

Payment structures are still in the works to get these programs up and running. Participating locations hope to find funding for the programs through their states. The rationale is that this will be less costly in the long run than patient return-trips to the ER. Policymakers are also looking to Medicaid and insurance plans to help cover the costs.

The idea sounds great – it’s based on solid theories – but it’s still too new to tell. The lack of research is actually working against new PRS programs. Healthcare facilities that would like to offer these services obviously need the funding to do so. To get funding, you need proof that a program is worthwhile. To get proof, you need research. To get research, you need a program to study. It’s a bit cyclical. But in states such as Maryland, where programs are getting off the ground, healthcare experts are actively documenting results and collecting data in hopes of furthering these programs.

And personal stories are already surfacing that indicate peer recovery specialists do indeed have a huge impact. Dustin French of Rhode Island reports, “Anything I needed, she was always there. That program saved my life.”

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