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Peer Support in Substance Use, Opioid and Heroin Recovery

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Peer support is rapidly emerging as an effective element of recovery from Substance Use Disorder (SUD). Peer Recovery Support Specialists are individuals who have achieved significant recovery of their own and are trained to use their experiences of recovery to assist others in their journeys to recovery.


Peer support can fill a gap that often exists in treatment by focusing on recovery first and by helping to rebuild and redefine the person’s community and life. Many people find it easier to open up and be honest in this kind of relationship and this kind of honest relationship makes those in recovery more inclined to take the proper steps toward recovery.


I’m not a counselor. I’m a mentor,” said Amy Burrows, a Peer Recovery Specialist working with Symetria Recovery.  “I’m there for mutual support. I’m there to hold your hand and to let you know that we’ll get through this together because recovery works for me."


Peer recovery support specialists engage in a wide range of activities:

  • Advocating for people in recovery
  • Sharing resources and building skills
  • Building community and relationships
  • Leading recovery groups
  • Mentoring and setting goals


Their roles may extend to:

  • Providing training to and supervising other potential support workers
  • Developing resources
  • Administering programs
  • Educating the public and policymakers


Peer Recovery Specialists receive over a thousand hours in formal training and internships to learn how to share their experiences effectively.


“My education is my story,” Burrows said. “The training is about using your own story effectively without hurting the other person. It’s my job to open up about my secrets and the more I can open up the more the other person is likely to open up.”


According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), research has shown Peer Support in Recovery effective in:


  • Improving the relationship with treatment providers
  • Increased treatment retention
  • Increase satisfaction with the overall treatment experience
  • Improved access to social supports
  • Reduced re-hospitalization rates
  • Reduced substance abuse
  • Reduced relapse rates
  • Decrease emergency service use
  • Decreased involvement in the criminal justice system

Peer Recovery is recognized by SAMHSA as a best practice and is available in all 50 states and reimbursable via Medicaid in 35.  A comprehensive opioid, heroin and substance use recovery treatment program can provide Peer Recovery as a component of treatment including Medically Assisted Treatment (MAT), Psychiatry, Group, Family and Individual counseling as well as continuing care.  Peer Recovery Specialists are often sought out for their authentic experiences as part of substance use, dependency and addiction recovery treatment. 



Dale Willenbrink
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