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Former drug users turn life coaches to help addiction patients

The burgeoning opioid epidemic, now a national emergency, is leading to new approaches to help people overcome addiction and lead a sober life. Known as peer recovery specialists or coaches, people who have overcome a drug habit, are enlisted to help those who are currently in its grip.

There are two advantages of such a situation. In places where there is a scarcity of professional counsellors, peer coaches can step in and offer initial support. Secondly, patients can trust these life coaches as they share common experiences. Their services can be enlisted from the time a person is admitted to emergency department for a drug overdose. Most coaches are expected to stay in touch even after the patients are discharged from the hospital and help them stay sober.

Though the peer program is supported by the National Governors Association that “recommends the large-scale expansion of recovery coach reach and capacity,” there is not much research regarding how effective a mentoring program is in mitigating an addiction and therein lies the gap. Nonetheless, there are many states, such as Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts among others, which are taking the leap and experimenting with the model to providing counseling to those in dire need. It helps them manage their finances and improve patients’ moods.

Hurdles in making peer program a success

Despite growing interest, doctors caution restraint. According to Dr. Manish Sapra, associate chief of clinical affairs, network hospitals and affiliates for Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, “There is barely any research, there are no randomized controlled trials to show peer recovery efforts or peer support have as big an effect as what we’re hoping.”

Some impediments in making it a successful recovery program are:

Lack of empowerment: A peer coach is a person with a lived experience of overcoming drug addiction. Unlike a physiatrist or counselor, he has no medical degree or certification. It is likely that in the course of the outreach program, his credentials could be judged by those who are under his wings. It is necessary to provide the coach with the necessary training and skills to discharge the responsibilities well.

Finding the right someone: One of the major challenges that hospitals face is finding a peer counselor who has no prior criminal record. However, finding the ideal candidate is akin to finding a needle in a haystack. American jails are filled with people for drug-related offenses. Dr. Sarah Wakeman, medical director of the substance use disorder initiative at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Center for Community Health Improvement, says that it is undeniably taxing to find a person with the right record. “We want to hire people with lived [addiction] experience, and the reality is most people with that will have a criminal record.”

Value for money: In the long run, a mentorship program will be deemed successful only if it helps in providing succor to those battling an addiction. Beyond comfort, the model needs to address the concerns of various stakeholders. Insurers will be interested to know if it saves their money in providing coverage for it, or if the rehabilitation center can improve its costs.

Mentor’s self-care: Being a mentor could be extremely taxing both physically and psychologically as the person may have to relive the memories of own journey. The coach would have to be on guard always and the temptation of falling into the drug habit again is high.

Road to recovery

According to a 2016 report of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), nearly 11.8 million people aged 12 or older misused opioids in the past year. Looking at the growing number of people falling prey to prescription opioids, it is necessary to look for alternate therapies and programs that reduce dependence on opioids for pain management. For those addicted to them, psychiatric help is advisable.

If you know someone addicted to any harmful substance, the Texas Substance Abuse Helpline can assist you in connecting to the best substance abuse treatment centers in Texas offering holistic recovery programs. Call our 24/7 helpline (866) 971-2658 or chat with one of our experts to know more about the finest substance abuse treatment programs in Texas.