Peer recovery may offer best practice to beat drug crisis

Who better to help them than someone who has already been there.
That’s the kind of common sense that we’re not accustomed to hearing from state bureaucrats.
But that’s how one Department of Health and Human Resources official summed up the West Virginia Peer Recovery Support Services Conference this week.
It’s not often that much of what we read or write about the opioid epidemic could be described as hopeful.
Indeed, if it’s not medical professionals being indicted for illegally prescribing pain pills, its grim data on the number of fatal drug overdoses. But the news out of this conference was truly reason for a ray of hope amid the despair this scourge leaves in its tracks.
First there was the turnout. Enrolling 240 peer recovery specialists for the conference was the goal. Apparently that target was exceeded.
These peer counselors were not there to share stories of the good, the bad and the ugly, either, but to get better at what they are doing. Some of the subjects the conference tackled included ethical guidelines, responding to overdose survivors and access to the most recent science-based practices.
Though support-based services are no cure-all for opioid addiction or other ills, it’s essential to a smart response.
The growing interest in such peer recovery services is much like the findings from agencies that employ similar practices to serve veterans. As a rule, veterans suffering emotional or psychological distress can much more easily relate to someone who knows the ins and outs of military service.
Though unrelated to peer recovery, recent findings of a series of public education forums also point to the need for meeting emotional and social services first. That is, for children from tough backgrounds it’s imperative to provide certain human needs before you can address their academic ones.
This conference on peer recovery and other actions clearly point to meeting such needs before addressing the physical one of addiction. As the DHHR’s Bureau for Behavioral Health commissioner noted, the evidence on peer recovery services proves this practice lowers the rate of relapse and increases the quality of care.
Medicaid now reimburses states and providers for this service while agencies often hire peer recovery specialists. Even many courts endorse the merits of this service.
We applaud the DHHR for validating this practice with this conference.
Yet, we owe those who use their personal experience to lead people out of the shadows of addiction a standing ovation. It’s understandable why many would not want to relive their own bad past experiences.
But those who do are crucial to our state’s ongoing response to this crisis.

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